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Lynda Cartwright – London Marathon 2017

My London Marathon – Lynda Cartwright

At the beginning of October 2016 I received a letter informing me that I had been unsuccessful in the ballot for the 2017 London Marathon.  I was relieved and disappointed in equal measure.

However, the following day I realised that actually, this was something that I really wanted to do, so I applied to Refuge for a charity place and five days later found out I had been successful with my application – now I was properly worried!

Every year I would sit on the sofa with a cup of tea and bacon sandwich watching the marathon with a lump in my throat, marvelling at all the amazing people and thinking, “I’d love to do that one day” but now I’d got the actual day – Sunday 23rd April, 2017.

In 2009, I was diagnosed with an aggressive stage 3 cancer and spent most of that year having surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  Ironically, I walked the Race for Life at Trentham in June and the effort required literally, nearly killed me.  The following day I was admitted to hospital with Sepsis and had to have emergency blood transfusions.  It was after that little blip that someone said to me, “You will have to run a marathon once you’re better”.

That comment settled somewhere deep down and was never quite forgotten.

A year or so later I started walking and those walks turned into very long walks.  When I completed a walking marathon in Manchester for the Shine Cancer charity I thought that was the peak of my athletic achievements and the marathon mission was accomplished.  But like Forrest, I kept on walking further and further (London to Brighton, round the Isle of Wight in 24 hours and the entire Cotswold Way in 3 days).

Then almost three years ago in the summer of 2014, I downloaded the Couch to 5k app and thought I’d give running ago.  I stuck religiously to that app running/walking/wheezing up and down the canal towpath and the day I ran 30 minutes without stopping I thought I was an Olympic athlete.  (Clearly delusional, everything hurt and I had purchased the entire range of neoprene support bandages in Boots, but I kept at it).   The following summer I completed the St. Michael’s 10k in Stone and as I crossed the finish line, a friend I knew from school thrust a leaflet at me for the Stone Master Marathoners.  Well, I was pretty chuffed with my performance that day but thought it was stretching it a bit to consider myself a “Master Marathoner”.

I gathered all my courage and went along on my own one Thursday night “just to see what it was like”.  From the moment I got out of the car looking a bit lost, I was met with friendly faces who invited me in, made me feel welcome and assured me that they wouldn’t all point and laugh at how slow I was – in fact they like slow, plenty of opportunity for “mustering”.

I survived that first night, people spoke to me and ran at my pace and they seemed genuinely pleased I was thinking about joining – so I kept going – and became “A Bat”.

I saw other people who I ran with entering races and so I found the courage to do the same and completed 5k’s, 10k’s and then the Stafford Half Marathon in Spring 2016.  Approaching 50, the thought of a full marathon became vaguely possible rather than a pipe dream.

So there I was in October, with a confirmed place and a training plan stuck to the kitchen wall.

The training plan was for 16 weeks, starting on 1st January and taking me all the way to “the big event”.  It assured me that if I followed this plan, I would give myself the best possible opportunity of crossing the finishing line, so that’s what I did.  At the end of every week I put a shiny gold star on the plan after the Sunday run (because I’m that childish).

Although the plan required you to run four days each week, the only really long runs were on a Sunday so it didn’t seem that bad.  But by week six, heading out on a freezing Tuesday night to run around the streets and industrial estates of Stone was losing its appeal.  Getting out of the door was the hard part and I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t have been running with such a great group of people, and Bill, who would shout mild abuse at me if I slowed down.

Who would have thought a year on, I was looking forward to the Stafford Half Marathon 2017 being a “fall back” week in my training plan?

The two low points of the training were the Sunday I first ran 16 miles and suddenly and inexplicably my legs felt were about to explode with pain, meaning I had the embarrassment of walking back through Stone in my SMM t-shirt looking like an arthritic tortoise.  The second was the Sunday we did 18 miles and it lashed down with freezing rain for the entire duration making me think – is it worth giving up my Sunday lie in’s for this.  But it was too late, I was committed, I’d told everyone I was doing it and short of breaking a leg, I was going to have to see it through.

I took a day off work to complete the final long run of 20 miles and with Anne, Julia, “ultra Dave”, Paula and Jayne on her bike.   We had a lovely morning in the sunshine running along the canals and across fields –and discovered the magic restorative properties of dried mango.  At the end we felt good and were reassured that we might just be able to do this.

Two weeks of tapering allowed the doubts to creep back in and I spent the last week convinced that I’d done nowhere near enough training (despite all those gold stars), my foot and knee started to hurt for no apparent reason and I felt more than a bit nervous.

On the Saturday I travelled down on the coach with Julia and lots of other runner and supporters.  Fortified with a cheese and bacon oatcake the nerves seemed to abate, I was committed now so I just had to “man up”.

Fast forward to 8.30 Sunday morning, we were dropped off at Blackheath Common and heading towards the Red start with the rest of “the masses” as we were affectionately referred to.   This is the start area where the majority of people were running their first marathon and raising money for every conceivable charity you can think of.  Whilst I’ve got nothing to compare it to, I can honestly say this was the best and most supportive environment I could have imagined.  The organisation was amazing, (just how many portable loos are there in this world?) everyone was smiling and chatting.  I was looking out for the other “Refuge” runners in their pink and white vests, as we had become Facebook friends throughout the training and to meet them in person was just great, hugs all round, like long lost friends.  We’d shared our stories and training agonies on-line for the last four months but this was the first time we’d actually met in person.  Just as important, we then met up with Anne and, although not in our Bat colours, the three amigos were together and ready to “do this”.

I have never stood in such a diverse, focussed and happy crowd of people as we made our way to the start line and after half an hour we were finally able to break into our 5 hour lightning pace!  26.2 miles was a bit of blur in places but some of the things that have stuck in my memory are;

  • The noise of the police helicopters overhead
  • Seeing Scooby Doo relieving himself in a hedge about 1 mile in
  • The 7 foot drag queen in a gold lamè body stocking conducting a choir (my kind of church)
  • The “comedy gold” home-made signs of the people lining the route
  • The very old man playing his trumpet on his front door and being cheered by the runners
  • The drummers under the fly over
  • The children reaching out for a high five
  • Complete strangers smiling and shouting your name and encouragement
  • Other runners smiling and chatting and patting each other on the back when the hard miles set in
  • The showers (how welcome were they)

Mile after mile the crowds never stopped, sometimes it was a blur, at other times we could focus no further ahead than the next mile marker and the reward of a jelly block.

Of all the memories I will take away from London, three are very special;

To enable me to come to London, my two boys were staying with my friend back in Salt and watching the Marathon on the telly.  They had never seen me run in any kind of competitive race.  As I came down off Tower Bridge I became aware of my name being shouted amongst the general noise, I turned to look and there were my boys shouting at the side of the road.  It took a couple of seconds to register, but then I ran back to hug them both, together with Mandy and her family.  I was absolutely amazed and overjoyed and the boost it gave me at the half way point was indescribable.

Secondly, as I ran on towards mile 14, I thought I would have an energy gel and a little walk.  There I was happily walking down Narrow Street still smiling about seeing the boys, when more shouting alerted me to the official SMM supporters squad.  Emma shouting and Michelle recording me strolling along – excellent timing!

From about mile 20, Julie and I decided that “scouts pace” was the way to go, so we had a run/walk strategy to make sure we kept going at a reasonable pace.  At mile 25 I saw the “Refuge” supporters along the Embankment and told Julia I was going over to say hello.  Refuge is a fantastic charity and I will always be grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to experience the London Marathon. After a run of high fiving and more hugging, I ran back to where I thought Julia was but couldn’t find her anywhere, how could I have lost her in the space of 30 seconds!  I couldn’t see her and didn’t know if she was in front or behind, so I made the decision to run for the line.

As I approached Big Ben, it started to bong and I finally realised that I was nearly home and I was running the London Marathon.  The third memory and one that will remain with me forever, is the roar of the crowd as I turned into Parliament square – it was like running into a football stadium and from that point I wasn’t going to stop and it was head down towards Buckingham Palace and The Mall.  800m, 600m, 400m – I could see the statue of Victoria come into view and then finally the “385 yards to go banner”.   I will probably only do this once in my life so, head up, eyes forward,  I ran for the line with arms in the air, full victory finish.  Unbeknown to me, my moment in the spotlight was also on the big screen outside Buckingham Palace and Harry and Ed were in the crowd to witness the moment their mum punched the London Marathon on the nose!

So that’s my story and every cliché is true, the crowds, the atmosphere, the memories, if you want it enough you can do it.

I couldn’t and wouldn’t have done this alone and the best decision I made was to join the Stone Master Marathoners.

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Uttoxeter Half Marathon (NSRRA) – 30th April, 2017

Uttoxeter Half Marathon Race Report – Kathryn Ambrose

I had really looked forward to Uttoxeter Half, as I had heard of its reputation as a tough course with plenty of undulations. My preference is for hills, as although it’s tough going up, it’s a lot of fun on the descents! I’m not great at half marathons as I never seem to know how to pace them, but with two 10K PBs in consecutive weeks at Newcastle and South Cheshire, I was fairly confident in my racing form. Unfortunately, the two weeks prior to the race saw me struck down with a chest infection and I wasn’t certain I would be able to run. After a doctor’s visit on the Thursday and a prescription for Doxycycline, I felt decidedly better and resolved to make it a steady one to bank the points. The fact that I couldn’t drink alcohol also probably helped with my race preparation! One thing I didn’t bank on, however, was a warm day after a week of much colder weather. Another contraindication of Doxycycline is sunlight, as it can make your skin very sensitive and prone to burning. So on the morning of the race, I was covering myself in Factor 50 and doing a rain-dance in the front garden. I also abandoned my usual race kit of vest and shorts in favour of T-shirt and capris, thereby running the risk of the dreaded comedy tan. The things we do for running!

We arrived at the start nice and early, which gave us plenty of time to socialise with running friends, both fellow Bats and our old teammates at Trentham. Roger was wondering why he had decided to do a half marathon a week after London, but I knew he would be fine. In the event, he had what he described as a fairly solid race, and finished in 1:26 (19th place). Lots of banter with him and Mick Downes, who was in the ascendancy today – but apparently he won’t get him on Flying Fox 🙂 Also some amusing moments when David realised that Indira had been promoted to D, not E – his dreams of 50 points in every race having been previously shattered, his whoops of joy could almost be heard out on the country lanes we would soon be hurtling along!

Lining up at the start, I positioned myself somewhere in the middle as I wanted to get away cleanly, but not get pulled along too quickly. The aim was to run steadily, so my breathing never became laboured. Coming out of the town and up the first little climb, I was hovering at around 9 min pace, which was probably a bit too quick for what I wanted to do, but I felt fine and I was in amongst people I often run with in races, Bonnie, and Bobbie Hickman from Trentham. Bobbie and I always have a good chat on races (when I can breathe!) and it makes the miles go by quickly. Through the first water station and I felt good holding my pace, and was enjoying the undulations. JC had told me about the big climb at 6.5 miles, so I was grateful for the big downhill that came before it! By this time, my quads were starting to feel a bit heavy and my breathing more difficult, so I opted to tackle the hill like I would on the fells  – hands behind the back, head down and power walk. This technique pleasingly saw me pass people who were running and I reached the top in fairly good shape. The next little climb, however, felt just as hard and my pace began to slow. Thank goodness for the steep downhill at 8 miles, I thought, as I let myself fall down it and recover slightly. I was able to use the momentum of the hill to keep a nice even pace through Mile 9, but from 10 to 12 I really struggled and lost touch with both Bobbie and Bonnie, as well as a few other girls from Group W. As I reached the top of the lovely big descent back to the racecourse, I felt relieved as I knew that it was downhill all the way and I could stop running in about 10 minutes! Heading back in towards the finish, I was delighted to see some fellow Bats, including Bonnie, and Fiona Bradley, who’d had a great race to finish first L35 in a time of 1:46:05. She ran in towards the finish with me, as did Roger, bless him, but he couldn’t even keep up with me as his hamstrings had seized up! Crossing the line in 2:10, I was pleased with a time only four minutes outside my PB on a flat course. Hopefully more to come from me this season.

Some superb performances across the categories today on a tough course. Some of the highlights for SMM were Fiona, as mentioned, with her L35 victory and Staffs Champs Gold. Also winning their categories for the ladies were Victoria Hughes (L40), with an outstanding 1:34:25 (PB). Ros Bould took the honours in the L50 category with a great run, coming in at 1:46:42. Many of us were delighted to see Paul Swan returning to his best following a spell out with injury – he took the V50 prize in a time of 1:23:09. Kevin Uzzell won the V65 category in a time of 1:43:59. Stone Ladies also took second place in the team prizes.

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South Cheshire 10K (NSRRA) – 16th April 2017

A day of firsts – South Cheshire 10k

Relatively new to club running compared with some of my inspirational running veterans, I was completely naive to the racing scene and thought that joining a running club was a bit like going to a fitness club at a gym.

It was only after entering a few local races, then running my first Marathon (London) and transferring to Stone Master Marathoners in July 2016 that I was ‘actively encouraged’ by my fellow BATS to try NSRRA. I also felt inspired after the club Gala Evening when Amy Gamble made a lovely speech addressed to Ken, recognising him for all of his efforts and the time he puts into NSRRA. To be honest I was always nervous of the additional pressure of league tables, as I tend to fall foul of the occasional unplanned pitstop. I’m still nervous of how this could impact on my times and points, but of course, I’ve learnt I’m not alone in that, and I figured life is too short.

In 2015 I ran 10 road races and last year I ran 13 road races 8 of which were NSRRA races anyway so I technically only need to race another 4. I therefore made the decision to drop a couple of the other non NSRRA races I had planned to do and support this great local running initiative instead.

As I had already entered Manchester Marathon this year, the first three NSSRA races of the season didn’t fall into my training plan. However, Knighton 20 was a perfect marathon training run. Although I didn’t ‘race’ it and I had convinced myself I hate laps (who doesn’t? and not forgetting Cheddleton Pudding Run a couple of years ago) I actually really enjoyed Knighton and the new 3 lap course.

So, onto my first official NSRRA ‘race’ – South Cheshire 10K, with Manchester Marathon still in my legs, and 2 weeks of very easy occasional recovery runs, I didn’t really know what to expect or what I was capable of on a 10K. My last 10k was Trentham back in July 2016 (my first race as a Bat), and the four 10K laps I ran on the 24hr Thunder Run. Oh, I hate 10K races too and to top my day off, this was 2 laps but at least this race was flat, I was reliably informed, which also meant it would be fast!

Strange also to return to my student days as I studied at Manchester Metropolitan Uni. The Student Union (Race HQ for the day) was a more civilised area resembling Costa than I remember with a lovely selection of homemade cakes on offer. Last time I was here, I was ordering a Green Monster from the Bar and dancing on a sticky floor to Stone Roses and now I’m queuing for the ladies facilities for the 3rd time before a race. Ironic that this University was and still is a centre for Sports Science and yet the closest thing I ever got to experiencing exercise here was riding my bike to Kwik Save for my ‘No Frills’ loaf of bread and baked beans.

As there was also a 5k fun run, my husband and I wanted to make it a family day and take our two boys. My eldest has started running for Trentham Juniors and he really enjoys the fun runs. Unfortunately, we didn’t read the small print and as he is under 12, he needed an adult to accompany him on the course. I wasn’t too keen on a 5K warm up so my husband had to step in. This wasn’t too big an ask as he can actually run but he had a slight handicap wearing jeans, his chunky walking shoes and the additional challenge of getting our youngest around the 5k course. Quick change into the nice blue Air Products race T shirt and although a little on the tight side (as I had requested the smallest size for myself), he looked the part, well at least his top half! He deserved a medal for pushing our 5 year son in a pushchair that isn’t really designed for running let alone the weight of a 5 year old. In all the last minute organisation, we had missed the 5k start but at least it was chip timed and it is a ‘fun’ run, after all.

Meanwhile I am reminded why I get more stressed taking the kids to races as I now only have a few minutes to get back to race HQ for another loo stop and to find my fellow BATS for a decent warm up and the all important pre race team photo. A quick warm up accompanied by the usual ‘Booooo’ from Mr Pickles (Dave Pickstock TRC) for wearing red (he just won’t let it go). A great turnout from the club again although with many now tapering for London it wasn’t a full colony of Bats flying.

Conditions were good, cool, overcast with a little wind. Quick chat and usual banter with some of the BATS about pace or more accurately who I was going to try to hang on to, as well as whether I should have Indira’s race number (No 2, due to my reputation of pitstops). My running buddy Kathryn Ambrose had already kindly advised me I should be doing at least 7s at my level and my wing girl for the day, Anna Hollingworth (Anna Longlegs) thought we should aim for 6:50s as we could always slow down at the end. True to form, Anna flies off and I’m left watching the Bat on her back. I tend to be a slow burner

and ideally need my 43 year old legs to warm up a bit before tackling what ended up being 6:32 pace in my first mile. I settled into my own pace and actually hung on to

6:50s for the rest. The course was a little ‘industrial’ but it was traffic free and flat. There was a little section where we went off the road and onto a winding public footpath with a couple of footbridges which was a welcome break from the long stretch of pavements. I tried not to focus on the race signs informing you of 7kms when we had only ran 3kms or the points of interest that I was going to have run past for a second and most likely more painful time.

Lots of support and shout outs from the marshals, fellow runners from South Cheshire Harriers and other club runners who were also possibly tapering for London and not forgetting Bryan Dale, really helped to keep me pushing. I wasn’t aware of any other runners in my group around me, so I focussed on 3 ladies I was running behind on the 1st lap and most of the 2nd lap. After taking the first 2 ladies, the 3rd looked over her shoulder and she put her foot down. My lungs and legs said ‘fair play, let her go and save yourself’, my head said, ‘no way, Penelope, use her’ and I somehow managed to sprint past her after the last roundabout, just before the finishing stretch.

I made the usual school girl error of not really familiarising myself with the course or the location of the finish (ignorance is sometimes bliss and I lack navigation skills anyway) so before I know it, I hear the shouts from the supporters and our fun coach John Clemens and I have a decent amount in the tank to sprint the last few metres.

My 10K PB was 45:35 on St Michael’s back in June 2016 (another flat PB course) and I knew with all the training I had done for Manchester I was capable of a PB, so I was over the moon to finish with 41:38. Another bonus was to be presented with a Group Winner’s Mug. My first proper NSRRA race and my first group win. I wasn’t the only BAT to smash a PB and win their NSRRA group or age category.

Congratulations to my fellow Bats

Mick Downes – 37:26 – PB
Paul Swan – 37:41 – 1st M50
Mike Keeling – 40:06 – PB
Anna Hollingsworth – 41:27 – PB
Indira Natarajan – 43:57 – PB and Group F winner
David Dunsmore – 44:05 – PB and Group E Winner
Kevin Uzzell – 44:14 – 1st M65
Ros Bould – 44:35 – 1st F50
Lisa Ashton – 49:15 – Group W winner
Emma Dutton – 50:59 – PB
Bonnie Seabridge – 52:11
Kathryn Ambrose – 53:05 – PB
Michelle Miles – 56:29 – PB and Group X winner
Joyce Edwards – 63:23 – 2nd F65

 Thanks to South Cheshire Harriers for a great PB course, to Ken for another well organised race and HQ. I’m looking forward to my next NSRRA race. No doubt there will be more competition on the courses after London!

Happy Running
Victoria Hughes (Penelope Pitstop)

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Spring Treble – Hanchurch Hilly – 13th April, 2017

Spring Treble Race Report – Fabien Carbonell

This is the first leg of the Club’s spring treble series, which is a series of 3 races that has now been running for 15 years and is still held in memory of our late member and organiser of the event Dave Upton. Having been a member of SMM for about 4 years, I actually always managed to miss and/ or avoid the event, (with always very good reasons to bring forward…) principally because cross country has never been my favourite.

I decided to run this first race because I felt that I needed to support the club that I have missed for the last year, after a succession of incidents, injuries and professional commitments. My return in the competitive scene has been with the Stafford HM, first ‘long’ distance in 14 months. 

It was lovely to see all the members on arrival, mainly on marshalling and organising duties, and went on to register. One of my first questions was about the distance. The reply was a worrying ‘5 and a bit…’ which prompted the memory of a similar optimistic answer used to lure me into a cross country event (Park Hall) back 3 years ago where 3 laps were required instead of the ‘only 2’ that I had been told.

Having arrived with time to spare, I went for a warm up jog in order to assess some of the course, wondering what kind of trainers to wear, road or trail. I decided to go for road and went on the starting line.

As the race started I realised I was so far down the pack that I would have to pass slower runners, which wasn’t easy and struggled to find a good pace in between sprints when gaps were forming amongst other runners. After half a mile and the first two hills, I settled to a more familiar pace and started to enjoy my race. The location is lovely and I kept thinking about coming back. The first half of the race was actually very pleasant, but I knew that something wasn’t quite right as it was more downhill that up… and the surrounding scenery clearly wasn’t flat! What had gone down inevitably had to go back up again…. I caught up and passed Paul Philips (who obviously knew what was coming) and the fun bit arrived : a succession of narrow paths in a dense wooded area, with dips, roots, some mud pits, going up and down. It was a bit of a challenge to maintain the pace whilst looking where I was going! There were loads of marshalls along the way, even in the most unlikely places, offering great support. 

Then they came, fairly easy at first, then steeper, vicious, unnerving as no end was coming in sight… the dreaded hills! I overtook a few more slower runners, even some walking. I was thinking how bad it was to be walking on such a short distance race… before I stopped myself! Fortunately my fast walking was keeping up with the other’s slow running, but it wasn’t enough and Paul caught up, passed me and I soon stopped entertaining the hope of catching him up again… At about 4,5 miles we were back on ourselves on the common starting and finishing part of the course, triggering a faster pace. This is also one of highest point of the course, which offers a fantastic view over rolling countryside… but also a treacherous part bringing you back to reality! Finished in 40:50 at my watch, with an overall pace of 7:50min/mile. Still a long way away from any PB but not bad for a Thursday! The course length was 5.22 miles, which you will find is an accurate description of ‘5 miles and a bit’. I still don’t like cross country very much, and I’m still deliberating about entering the other 2 races of the series. All depending the quality of the excuses I’ll have on the day. Although, if the surroundings are as good as Hanchurch, it could be a very easy decision!

**Entries for both Milford Murder and Barlaston Ups and Downs and still available – click here >> **

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Alsager 5 – 5th February 2017

Fiona Bradley – Alsager 5 – Sunday 5th February 2017

The day of my Stone Master Marathoners debut had finally arrived!  Waking that morning, I wondered why on earth I put myself through the stress of races and, rather unhelpfully, noted that this was not only my SMM debut but also my NSRRA debut, first race after the Lanzarote Marathon and the first race after my first ever injury (cue the violins)!

After forcing down my usual pre-race porridge, I was instantly lifted by putting on my lovely new vest which Tim had kindly presented to me at the fantastic Gala Dinner.  Armed with my fabulous SMM race clips, my Bat days had begun…

Arriving at Alsager, the weather felt unusually warm and I was incredibly pleased to have abstained from wearing a base layer.  I was even more pleased upon parking, when I spotted a familiar black and red uniform: looking dashing in his recently presented ‘Captain’ jacket, I made the walk to the Race HQ with Bernie.  Taking full advantage of Bernie’s vast race knowledge, I bombarded him with questions – predominantly regarding the NSRRA as I had signed up on the recommendation of another new bat, Laura Slack, but knew little of how it all works.  Imagine my horror when Bernie congratulated me on being part of the ‘L’ group (husband had earlier had a good chuckle at me being a ‘Learner’) and I discover that I am battling for points against our super speedy Kirsty, Amy, Angela and Ros!  I resign myself to the fact that it will all be good experience!

Walking in, we see Birthday Bat aka Emma arrive with Michelle, who was also making her NSRRA debut.  I instantly feel calmer and I now understand the comforting support of a club.  I’d always avoided the ‘pressure’ of being part of a running club but it was after the Flying Fox when I spoke to Victoria that I felt compelled to give it a whirl; she raved about SMM, reassured me that there was no pressure and, I must admit, part of the draw was the gorgeous red and black kit!  Our colony of bats grew and the fantastic atmosphere heightened – race nerves were overshadowed with the enormous sense of belonging.

Heading to the crowded start, we completed a gentle warm up before heading our separate ways.  Impressively, some of our bats had completed a 19 mile warm-up, running to the start – from Stone!  Well done Roger, Phil, Mike and Indira!  On a gentler note, David Dunsmore, another SMM newcomer, had mentioned a target time similar to mine (I wanted to beat my previous time of 37:55) so we hovered around the same area; I was pleased to find out David’s NSRRA group after being initially concerned that he was intent on finding ‘Es’…

The race began and we fought our way through the mass of runners.  Supporters were out in great force and, as always, the cheers spurred us on our way.  We were pretty surprised at the handful of runners taking a bit of a shortcut on the first left-hand turn but, as I teach my children, I thought ‘they’re only cheating themselves’!  The PB course of the Alsager 5 is flat and there are no hidden surprises.  Last year, I had joined a friend running with a sub-40 (unofficial) pacer but had found the course lent itself for a tad more speed so I had left them at around 2 miles; my main memory of that race was my sprint finish recorded on film by my father-in-law and I couldn’t wait to relive that moment!

It is always nice to hear the crowd cheering you on, so it was particularly special to see some fellow bats in a supporting capacity.  I couldn’t help but chuckle when they cheered: ‘Well done, Victoria!’ and then, looking a little confused, engaged in an ‘actually, who is that?’ conversation!  I can forgive Pam for not knowing me but who was she talking to?  Only Bernie!  I was then forced to use a little of my conserved energy to shout out my name!

Throughout the race, David was in sight, as was Ros, looking strong and experienced.  As the Garmin told me I had less than a mile to go, it was time to turn it up a notch and ensure I did my absolute best for my team.  I couldn’t wait to see that famous finishing stretch and when I did, it was a great feeling!  With my sights firmly set on the inflatable finish line, I saw my chance to make up a fair few places so I fought my way past the tiring runners and managed to part a formidable pair of men with a little encouragement from my elbows…

My Stone Master Marathoners debut was made!  With a PB of 36:30, I couldn’t have been more pleased.  Seeing Kirsty and Pippa laughing at the finish put an even bigger smile on my face!  We cheered in the rest of the team before heading off to a ‘debriefing’ at the George and Dragon.

Looking back at the results, The Bats really are a force to be reckoned with.  Our chairman’s PB of 29:42 shows that Tim really does lead by example.  There were also PBs for: Mick (29:55), Kirsty (33:07), David (36:07), Neil (39:34), Laura (40:01), Emma (40:12), Bonnie (42:18), Kathryn (42:20), Michelle (47:04) and me!  Our long run bats managed amazing times on (surely?) tired legs with Phil coming home in 32:20; Roger in 33:30 and Indira in 47:24 – true commitment!  Pippa ran a phenomenal 32:39; Amy 35:06; The Queen of Baps, Angela, 35:39; Ros 37:04; Lisa 39:13; Sam came in at 40:18; Richard 41:13; Anne-Marie 43:38; Mac 44:50, Margaret 48:24 and Joyce in 52:16.  Proud of you all!

In a bid to prevent this report being of record-breaking proportion, I won’t enter into discussing the NSRRA results other than saying ‘Watch out world, the bats are on fire!’  Let’s hope that our season continues as it has begun.

It would, however, be unfair to end my report without the mention of the public house debriefing.  Huge thanks to everybody who attended – particularly those who brought consumable treats!  I was privileged to experience one of Angela’s deliciously soft baps and sample a multitude of Emma’s birthday cakes!  After a fantastic weekend of celebrating achievements and running as part of a truly special team, this, for me, really was the icing on the cake!

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8th 9bar Sunrise to Sunset Challenge

The 8th 9bar Sunrise to Sunset Challenge

Fantastic running by our ladies Kathryn, Jackie and Anne-Marie at the 8th 9bar Sunrise to Sunset Challenge yesterday.
 
Anne-Marie recorded a superb half Marathon, Jackie cracking her first Ultra at 27 miles and Kathryn completed 58.75 laps which totalled 35.6 miles and saw her finish first in her category and seventh lady overall.
 
Brilliant running by all three – well done!
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Werrington 10k – 16th October 2016

Welcome to my last race report of the season, at this moment in time I have no plans to run any races before Alsager 5 next February so it looks like you will have to settle for second best with JK Rowling or Tolkien etc.
There was a slight change to my pre-race routine this weekend with Mick Downes kindly driving myself, Anne-Marie and the Chairman to Werrington so I wasn’t at the venue 8 hours in advance like I was (or so it felt) at Congleton, Mick picked us up about 9:15 and we set off following a car with New Balance kit in the back. After 5 minutes of conversation commenting on the fact we were following Sam Hodgkinson, Tim piped up ‘ Is that Sam in front’ !!.
Anyway it was a very wet journey over to Werrington and a miserable walk across the car park to collect numbers resulting in various comments as to why exactly we were doing this FOR FUN !
However, just before the 10:30 start the rain stopped and it was perfect weather for running and a good turnout of Bats gathered together for the off. Now the main reason for me doing this race was to improve on my NSRRA points for both the individual group and also the team prizes, I am pretty certain of a top two finish in my group but at Alsager back in February I only collected 45 points so any improvement on that would add to my tally and with the team being age group related I knew I could improve on that as well.
Off we went at 10:30 across about 100 metres of very wet grass which was quite entertaining before running out of the school and downhill to the lanes, a few of my group went out rather quick so I set about catching them up and also trying to keep Mick Downes and Tim Hulse in sight, this is my aim next year to be somewhere close to their pace. Once we got on the lanes I had caught all of my Group rivals up and after a quick chat I pushed on hoping to leave them behind with a quickish start of 6:45 m/m pace. At this point though Tim and Mick had shot off into the distance so I revised my plan and just set about keeping a good pace around 7 minute mile which I knew I was capable off on a flat course.
Werrington though is slightly more undulating than I remember and there were a few sneaky climbs in the first few miles (as well as descents) before the proper climb at 4 ish. With the marathon in Austria just over 4 weeks ago followed by my PB at Congleton 2 weeks ago I have been struggled with sore calves and a visit to Brian Coles on Tuesday and a week’s rest seemed to be doing the trick as once I had got over the first mile or two where you always question the wisdom of running a race I felt quite comfortable in the legs. So the first 4 miles I kept a steady controlled pace of 6:45 to 7:02 which kept me in front of any group D rivals before the long drag between mile 4 and 5. It is a long plod but not particularly difficult so I was a little disappointed at my time up the hill (7:42 ish) so something to work on over winter, before you have a nice flat and then steady decline before returning to the main road back up to the school.
When I got to mile 5 I chanced a glance back and saw Lee Jones from Trentham, who is Group D, not a million miles behind and I didn’t know how fit he was feeling so I couldn’t let up and kept pushing on.  As we climbed back up to the school I saw Paul Swan and Ben Gamble both of which encouraged me to keep working hard, although at this point I knew I was not going to be caught by anyone so I pulled the grimace face just to appease them !
Round the school and back over the grass to the finish line in 43:28 which was bang on 7min/mile according to Strava which was my 3rd fastest 10k behind Stone and South Cheshire which are considerably flatter and not so soon after long distances, so I was happy with the time and it gives me something to work on in the coming weeks. Lee Jones was second in the group about 30 or so seconds behind and we were then entertained by Olly Clarke who decided to do graceful slide over the finish line – 10/10 for style….
Tim and Mick had finished around the 40 minute mark and looked like they had hardly broken sweat but they had gained some valuable points for the men’s team, Kevin Uzzell, after running a 50 miler on Saturday, also ran along with Paul Swan, Tim Clegg, Richard and Mac, so hopefully we have closed the gap on the NSRRA team to try and nick second.
Amy was first lady in with Sam Hodgkinson, Anne-Marie (beaten in sprint finish by a Stafford Harrier who almost did an ‘Olly’), Pam, Bonnie and Joyce also gaining good points for the ladies who are looking good for at least 2nd.
After cheering everyone in we went back to the hall where I collected my Trentham Triple Towel (for running the 3 events they had put on this year), had a hot chocolate to keep warm before we set off back.
Unfortunately, I am not about for the Flying Fox 10 so that is me done for the season with respect to NSRRA but if you are reading this and not marshaling get yourself entered it is a great race and it would be fantastic to have a colony of Red Bats flying round the lanes on the 6th November.
On a personal note, I have hopefully done enough to get promoted to Group C next season which was my goal, I have achieved PB’s in all distances (except the marathon) for the second year running and I can highly recommend joining the NSRRA because there are some great races around the region, distances to suit everyone and you make some great friends along the way. Thanks to everyone in Group D who has run with me this year, you know who you are and thanks to everyone who has read my reports, hopefully they are fun and I’ll be back soon.
Have a good one !!
Go bats
Paul

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Phil Cape smashes UTMB 2016 in aid of Lucas’ Legacy

Weird circumstances – did some ultras last year to show London Marathon that I didn’t need it after a load of unsuccessful ballot entries, then got GFA for London and UTMB entry for 2016.

Did ok at London but struggled to comfortably change training gear afterwards. Chamonix fantastic town in full carnival mode for the UTMB week – few nice days with family relaxing in heat and enjoyed supporting some of the finishers, knowing that a lot of tough races were taking place – then the work started 6pm 26th. The start was the most emotive I’ve seen – check out Vangelis : Conquest of Paradise (UTMB theme) – people were stood on the start line crying. Police on rooftops and single peace dancer before the start reminded us that France was still in state of emergency – then we were off. image

Lovely gentle ups and down to Les Houches, then carouselled up past the ski-lifts, reminding us that we were there to do some climbing. The views were and remained breath-taking. I’d been worried about carrying walking poles (which actually fitted fine into my vest) but very quickly it became clear that they would be out the whole time… Was running too fast especially on downhill then got to St Gervais, where got an idea of the magnitude of the event – there were hundreds of runners and supporters at essentially the first checkpoint and the only event to challenge LDWA catering. I sampled my first of the famous noodle soup here and would have knocked back litres of the stuff by the end. The other bit was recognising that as a mere mortal, a lot of this event would be walking-pole trekking up-hill as opposed to a conventional running event.

I normally worry about two things on ultras – directions (never going to be an issue in this race) and company (not a big talker normally but the miles and hills disappear as you jabber on about anything). Language clearly an issue at UTMB, but didn’t get sustained chat which was a challenge.

Notre-Dame de la Gorge stone fires and Les Contamines gave superb scenery and support, feeding stations and steep ascent. The difficult first night included the summits of Bonhomme, Calcaires and la Seigna, but I felt ok. The dark skies star views were fantastic. First hallucinations began – seeing marshalls where they weren’t, others were worse – some shouting at anyone who would listen for no reason at all! Lots of high mountains up and down including in T-shirts and shorts across snow-fields which was superb. Fantastic view over lakes into dawn from mountains framed by clouds. Steep descent into Italian Courmayeur smashed feet up ready for drop-bags. The run out of town –ahead of schedule – was hot and steep but was impressed by the way Italians were treated like superstars by the locals.

imageThe rest of Italy was just hard – 30 degrees at least. I had become fixated upon getting ahead of the cut-off times and ran too hard down two mountains (the beginnings of over-doing it), which set me up for a slow-cooking up Col de Ferret: able to see in the hot daylight just how steep and far we had to go. Became absolute convert to drinking lots from streams – more on that later. Too many people seemed to be giving up on the Ferret, walking head-down back down the hill and crushing when you think how far people travel to take part. I had been pushing hard for a long time by this point and when tried running downhill found had proper good quad-pain. Sat at check-point and for the first time felt vulnerable around completing, but also began to get confused about check-point times. Had been over-caffeinating and taking too much liquid and sugar; and was at this point that I decided to add brufen to the mix. The quads eased and a good downhill got me to into La Fouly with greater margin. Also now had irritating thirst that couldn’t shift and (wish I took photos) quality bloodshot eyes! A good feed then took off for the Swiss-leg, past the chocolate box chalets and drops from paths that you didn’t want to dwell on.

imageThis would be the hardest leg for me. About an hour into it although absolutely clear that I needed to be moving forward, I got the ‘detached’ feeling and lost sight of my next objective. The nutrition/heat/foot care/tiredness combination was checking me out. I focused and followed some French guys for about five miles until I moved ahead into a superb second evening electrical storm and cooling rain. I hadn’t reached the bottom yet but watched others simply lie/fall down and sleep! I staggered up to Champex-Lac where a huge aid station was located. It was a sensory overload. Hadn’t eaten for ages and become worried if able to drink as had been drinking so much. A very kind volunteer steered me towards the medics who did some tests (all ok) and wanted me to sleep for 20 mins to help in their assessment. Sleep? I had timescales to meet! I can’t sleep on command, but was on a sticky wicket – important that I get checked out, but I was in the worst place to present as flaky, as a headshake would have put me out in Switzerland in the middle of the night! Tests were all ok and was able to convince a really nice set of people that although hadn’t slept was fit to continue. Necked some food and drink and got out quick but with a new objective, forget the time – finish…

The rest of the night would be two of the last three last hills. Loads of relentless climbing, hot again and best described as when you’ve had one more than you should have but are trying to act normal. The second hill felt like the first – I was convinced that I’d seen that fir-cone or tree before… I had some conversations – some lucid – others not-so: I spoke to a guy called Dave at one point who was getting married next year in Hawaii and was thinking how to sell doing an ultra whilst there to his wife-to-be… he ran ahead a bit and I continued talking to him. After a while, the Spaniard who was clearly not Dave, gave up correcting me and we shot the breeze about whatever until we went our separate ways…
The final significant checkpoint was at Vallorcine. The bit I didn’t appreciate at the time was my need to change foot-care for these events – my descent to the food-station was woefully slow but my feet were on fire. I’ve thought before how do some people run 100 in the same socks and shoes and I’m ready to change both after 30. I left the CP very focused upon time – I had nine hours to finish (do-able) but I had to be at the top of La Tete aux Vents quicker (but not as quick as I thought) to avoid an earlier cut-off. The ascent was my opportunity and I pounded-up the last mountain, sparking a comedy race within a race where I think people thought I was going for places whereas in fact I was giving myself breathing space on the descent. Went most of way up with lovely guy called Craig (I’m sure but forgive me if mistaken) who was there for third time having lost his mother whilst taking part in last years’ event and was on course for a PB this year.
It would have taken a minute to have taken a picture from the Col prior to the big run-in but I was too focused on getting done.
Any other time the downhill would have been an enjoyable sprint – I shuffled for about two and a half hours, steering the odd runner away from the edge as they staggered down more than half asleep, until I hit road and could actually jog again. Did that, got a huge gilet as a reward (no medals at UTMB), my can of Kronenbourg and shuffled off to recovery… job done.image
Afterwards – couldn’t move the day after, then legs/muscles came back quite quickly, blisters were a problem and perversely right rotator-cuff pull meant two days not using right arm! Day two was stomach cramps heralding four days diarrhoea got me a little weak and under 12-stone for first time since kid! Loved the spring water – challenge them when they tell you it’s ‘potable’!

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Was privilege to be able to run for Lucas’ Legacy charity and am humbled and grateful to those who have pledged. Most are in now, but something in the region of £1300 has been donated – thanks and well done.
It’s a week since the finish, across the last few days I never wanted to run again at all, but am apparently eligible to be able to apply for next year. Not sure how reads, but if you want to run like you are running on the roof of the world, with the very best of views with runners from every corner of the globe, the pleasure is very much worth the pain. The PTL appears the actual toughest (290km), but the festival includes also the OCC (55km), CCC (101km) and TDS (119km) – have a look and review your bucket-list, cheers.

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Meerbrook 15k – 30th July 2016

Well…what a week !

This time last week (about 6 or 7pm Saturday evening), I was just setting off on my 1st leg of 3 at the Thunder Run, what a fantastic event that was and I am sure everyone has seen the rave reviews, pictures and Kathryn’s excellent solo report. A few of you will also know that the hug I gave Kathryn wasn’t just for her benefit.

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Wednesday saw the unfortunate mix up at the Staffs Knot 5 where we ran and extra ¾ mile and thus not counting as a NSRRA race, I was going to write a report on that one but time and circumstances have been against me this week.
BUT today…the Meerbrook 15K, for those of you who don’t know this race, it is as flat as a pancake, superfast and super easy, one that everyone should give it a go next year….sign up before reading on !
However, for those who do know, I may not be telling the whole truth or in fact not even an ounce of truth…..it’s a bit hilly and it’s on a Saturday morning – it has been noted that Tim Hulse has booked his holiday to coincide with this race the past two years…coincidence?
As I am sure regular readers are now aware myself and Anne Marie like to arrive early and I am glad we did as it was the Leek Show and traffic was busy round the town and we also have a short walk to the race HQ before another short 1km walk back to the start line, making for not a lot of time for chatting, but we did have time for a mile or so warm up to the bottom of Gun Hill in preparation.
As we made our way to the start, we noticed Danny Soltys mingling around the front of the pack and we also had a rare sighting of Jackie Allen doing a NSRRA race….now anyone who knows Jackie knows she is allergic to hills…so why Meerbrook we asked ? Also on the start line was Anne-Marie, Victoria (aka Kathryn), Joyce, Emma, Bonnie and Pippa – at this point I must say…”C’mon Lads….two of us” it might mean I get 49 points in the club championship but we won’t be winning any team prizes if we don’t up our game (After Trentham it looks like the girls are leading the NSRRA team event).
Anyway, on to the race, my main competition for Group D spoils is Chris Wood from Rugeley and he is running very well at the moment so we chatted at the start and for some reason I told him the profile and best strategy, I should have said go hell for leather for 4 miles and see what happens ! We started at just after 10am and it is quite a congested start and you don’t really get into your stride for the first 1km which is a blessing really as it stops you going off to fast, because as you pass the 1km marker you start to climb Gun Hill – I can’t put in words how hard this is at the start of the race but it climbs for over 2km and at one point you need crampons !
I worked hard up the hill and passed lots of the D runners who had managed to get a better start but by the top myself and Chris were at the front of D group and I had even passed Pippa (she got her own back don’t worry). Waiting just before the top is Bryan Dale, thanks Bryan, it will be interesting to see if Emma gave the double thumbs up at this point (don’t let me down Emma).
When you get to the top it is a long gradual and occasionally steep descent for the next 4km or so, however after the climb your legs can’t make the most of it straightaway as they are still aching but gradually you get into your stride and make the most of it knowing you have to come back up here shortly. At this point I am still running with Chris and we pretty much pacing each other knowing we have the points in the bag, just a case of who gets the 50.
Although it is a difficult course it is very scenic with very little traffic and only the sound of heavy breathing disturbing the peace, the weather was good with a nice cool breeze and a few drops of rain did threaten briefly but thankfully not for long.

After the water station you drop down again and then a climb starts about 8km and then another climb and more climbs which make Beech feel like a flat track session, maybe an exaggeration but this is around the 10km mark and you have normally finished by now. About 11km I am just in front of Chris and then Pippa comes past looking strong, I feel like I have just been pacing the pair of them because not long after Chris comes past and they open up about 20-30 yards on me.
This is where I need to up my game because in my head I accepted that they were in front and was quite happy to settle for the points there and then, would I have caught them if I tried harder ? Between 12k and 13k you then climb back up to the top of Gun Hill and I did see Pippa have a sneaky walk for a few yards but unfortunately my legs decided enough was enough and I just plodded up the last 1k uphill knowing the downhill was to come.
When you get to the 13k mark the race, as a race is pretty much over because down the hill most people are just going all out and it is difficult to make up any ground. I could see Chris and Pippa just in front but they weren’t getting any closer and they crossed the line a few places and about 40 seconds in front of me – I think Chris was panicking it was me in the red vest right behind but he was safe.

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I crossed the line in about 71:25 over a couple of minutes faster than last year so I should be happy enough with that but my initial thought was disappointment, someone did say I had done Thunder Run, followed by Staffs Knot and then this so perhaps my legs may have had that extra 30-40 seconds and I shouldn’t complain.
The end of this race it is difficult to chat too much because everyone had worked hard and was knackered but had a quick catch up with the regulars and also discussed the race with the Bats. Danny came in a fantastic 4th just missing out on the top 3 by a matter of seconds and Joyce claimed the only silverware for the bats with 1st F65.

All the results are on the website already with 9 of us completing the course. I understand Tim Clegg did attempt to make the start but due to an accident and delays in Leek he came to the start area without his number as not realising so we missed the Usain Bolt finish today.
After the team photo we all made our way off home with no race plans for a couple of weeks so I might have a couple of days off to rest up. Unfortunately, my kids may have other ideas as they dragged me for a walk into Stone Pokemon Hunting although a sneaky pint at the Three Crowns on the way back was well deserved. I am now sitting here with another glass, legs aching and glad this week is over.

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Well done today to all the Bats and everyone who ‘survived’.

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Kathryn’s Thunder Run – 24hr Solo Race – 23rd/24th July 2016

Kathryn’s Thunder Run report

Before I begin, I have to say that I’ve written many run reports, but I’ve never been quite so daunted about writing one as I am about this. Perhaps it is in keeping with the magnitude of the race itself?! In true ultra running style, you might need to grab yourself a cup of strong black coffee and a few biscuits before you start reading as I fear I might go on for some time…

Preparation for the task of running for 24 hours began in September last year, when I decided for some strange reason that it would be a good idea. After running my first ultra in March 2015, I was well and truly bitten by the ultra bug and wanted to do more and more – to see how far I could go. It seemed like everyone I knew was still talking about the Thunder Run and planning to enter the 2016 event, so when entries opened in October, I was in there like a rat up a drainpipe! It felt like I had forever to train, but I knew that it would come around quickly, so I needed to decide upon my target and race strategy. More on that later!

So, what do you do to prepare yourself to run for 24 hours? A lot of running is the answer, but only part of it: there are other things to consider. I knew that I wouldn’t be the fastest solo female on the course by a long way – my 10K PB on a flat road course is 56 minutes – but what I lack in speed I make up for in determination (for that read stubbornness/refusal to give up – ‘death before DNF’ is one of my mantras!!), a very high pain threshold and the ability to go without sleep. With these three weapons in my arsenal, I focused on gaining as much strength and endurance as possible over the next nine months. A typical training week would involve some of the following, sometimes all:

1. At least three double run days, with the first of those runs usually pushing a heavy two-year-old in a pushchair up hills and off road at an easy pace. I did a few triple days too.

2. Back-to-back long runs at a very easy pace to get used to running on tired legs.

3. If I wasn’t planning a back-to-back weekend, I would do two long runs a week, usually 15-18 on a Wednesday when Giovanna was in nursery and a longer one at the weekend.

4. Lots of hills. Roger ‘The Mountain Goat’ Taylor was enlisted in planning the hilliest routes he could think of. The day we did Redhill Lane, Beech Caves, Hanchurch and the Monument I might have thought bad thoughts and said a few bad words.

5. Running most days. I rarely take rest days – I find I get very twitchy and would prefer to just to do a slow two mile jog than have complete rest. Not conventional I guess but works for me.

6. Speed work! Tempo runs of up to 50 minutes (this hurts. A lot!) and long intervals are my ‘favourites’.

As well as all of this, I planned in key events as training runs. These included the Sunrise to Sunset (8 hours of 0.81 mile laps) in December, to see how I managed with laps, Dukeries 40 in May, the Mourne Mountain Ultra in June and the Potteries Marathon in July. Roger and I also did the route of the Six Dales from Hartington in the Peaks (26 miles).

All of this running and generally being quite busy burns a lot of energy, so I tried to plan good meals and snacks to keep me going. I eat a mostly plant-based diet (loads of fruit, veg, salad, nuts, seeds, pulses, tofu and slow release carbs like porridge and wholemeal pasta) but occasionally eat fish. I do have a terrible addiction to dark chocolate though!

Mental preparation was also going to be key, and I developed a few techniques to help me to stay positive and/or zone out when the going got tough. One of them is to laugh at things around me that might be a bit random or silly. On the day, this turned out to be people who farted or burped on their way past me! Another is to sing to myself. When it’s really bad I count to ten in as many languages as I can. I also think about my sister, who has a rare genetic disorder and is totally immobile. So when I think I’m hurting, I think about her and how she can’t run a step – never has been able to – and I soon get going again, usually with tears in my eyes. Some of you may have noticed I wrote her name on my arm to remind me. People often ask why I put myself through the pain of running such a long way and my standard response is ‘because I can’.

imageSo, race day dawned and I was pretty nervous, but also excited about completing the task in hand. I knew I would have brilliant support, both out on the course and back at the temporary Bat Cave, but little did I know just how incredible this support would be. It all began with our lift to the start from Tom – this really meant a lot as I knew I would be in no fit state to drive home! We arrived on site at around 9:40, which gave me plenty of time for multiple toilet visits, much faffing about with kit (thanks to Victoria for the vest that actually fits!) and some time to collect my thoughts. I had decided in advance that my aim was going to be at least ten laps but hopefully more like twelve. This would get me somewhere near the top ten. After studying results from previous years, I discovered that the winner had typically achieved 16 laps, with a podium finisher usually completing 15. I am pretty certain that I have this in me one day, and especially now I have experienced the race and know what not to do! More on that later.

High noon soon came around and I made my way down to the start area with Roger, who gave me a goodbye and good luck hug and kiss. It felt a bit like I was going out on an epic expedition even though I knew I would see him in about an hour and twenty minutes! I started at the back and settled into a very steady pace. I have no idea what that actually was because I took the decision not to wear a watch – mainly to stop myself from obsessing about being too fast or too slow, but also because the battery life on my Suunto is naff. New watch hint!

The aim on the first lap was to get to know the course and settle my nerves. Mission accomplished as I got back to the Bat Cave in about 78 minutes. A quick stop for a Pepsi and a hug ensued, and I carried on to complete my first lap in 84 minutes. Just what I had planned. On lap two I still didn’t really feel like I was into my running and I realised, if I didn’t know already, that the heat was going to be a massive issue. I took three cups of water at the 15K mark and felt slightly better so on lap 3 I opted to carry a bottle of water, something I don’t normally do. I have a race belt but I wanted to carry as little as possible around me because of how sweaty I was getting! Despite the extra water, I felt a little nauseous and had headache, so at the end of lap 3 I had a longer stop for paracetamol, crisps, the first of many strong black coffees and my magic concoction of one electrolyte tablet and one Berocca in a bottle of water to take with me. This made a huge difference and by lap 5 I was really enjoying my running. The oppressive heat was also starting to die down, which made a huge difference. Lap 6 was done in failing light. I just about managed to get away without a head torch, but knew that lap 7 would be the first of the dark ones.5 laps done

Donning my head torch that looks like I’m going down the mine (it is that massive!), I set off for lap 7, which was probably my favourite lap up to this point. I love night running, even if I do sometimes get a little spooked, but the course was so busy I never felt alone. I made it a game to spot the black beetles on the floor of the woodland sections – there must have been hundreds. Speaking of insects, it was also quite nice not to have flies in my eyes or worse, in my mouth. The Bat Cave was starting to get quieter by this point as people took well deserved rests, but the stalwarts Brian, Bernie and JC were always awake, it seemed! I don’t know whether they appreciated my inane chatter throughout the night but they did a good job of making it seem like it was amusing. Bernie also continued to provide me with very strong coffee, which definitely helped (although he has since told me that they ran out of coffee on lap one and I was in fact drinking Fence Guard. This would quite possibly explain why, at 3am, I apparently looked like a bush baby as my pupils were so dilated they had disappeared into my dark eyes!). Onto lap 8, and it became much darker. Not because it was night, but because my head torch was running out of battery. Needless to say, I slowed down because I couldn’t see much and I was concerned about staying on my feet. This was one of the mistakes that cost me an extra lap – one that I won’t be making again. Lap 8 also saw me start to suffer very badly with chafing in a rather delicate area, from about 75km onwards. At this point, I decided to have a longer break at the end of the lap so I could find my handheld torch and get my chafing sorted! Thankfully Victoria was awake so I didn’t disturb her when I went in the tent to get my inhaler, paracetamol and Savlon. Much hilarity ensued when Roger woke up to a conversation he would probably rather not have heard – basically that his first aid skills were required between my bottom cheeks! Under normal circumstances I might have been embarrassed by his shouts from the tent of “Oh God that’s awful! It looks like a baboon’s ass!” but I had just run 80k so didn’t much care ? Set off for lap 9 with a slightly less sore bum and was feeling pretty good as I knew that sunrise would come by the end of this one.

imageAs dawn came round, I felt a new surge of energy and enthusiasm, and started to feel confident that I would run for the whole 24 hours without a break for sleep. Lap 10 was also a lot of fun, and as I finished I treated myself to breakfast of honey nut cornflakes. Left for lap 11 feeling good, but I hadn’t seen Roger for a while as he had either been asleep or running when I came back, and my irrational pathetic brain took over from about 101-104km. I couldn’t seem to get going, I didn’t really give a stuff and although I knew I would carry on, I couldn’t be arsed, to put it bluntly! Just before I reached the water station on what I have come to know as the ‘lap of doom’, our very own captain of vice, Paul, must have seen I was struggling as he gave me a big hug on his way past. That gave me the boost that I needed and I started to get moving a bit more quickly again. Had a bit of a cry at the end of that lap when I did actually see Roger, but JC and Ben encouraged me to keep going. So, after a big hug, I set off for what I knew was going to be my final lap. I also knew that at any time after the 1km mark, Roger was going to come flying past, which also kept me going. What is even more impressive is that he still managed a 42 minute lap with a quick hug stop ? Past the water station for the final time, I summoned up one last push to take me over the ridge at 8km (my favourite bit of the course) and down the hill the other side. By this point I was in floods of tears (tears of joy and relief!) underneath my sunglasses, but I did manage to stop crying by the time I got to the grassy straight for the very last time. I felt like running royalty as I was welcomed by cheers and Bats lining the bank with party poppers, and that gave me a massive boost as I headed towards the finish. Throughout the whole race, I was truly blown away by the time that people took to get me through. I felt like a queen every time I ran along the grassy straight back to base camp, as I was welcomed by cheers, offers of food, drink and a chair (sometimes two to put my feet up!). I have no idea where it came from but I don’t think Roger was expecting to run in to the end with me at 8 minute pace!! Crossed the line and heard the joyful chorus of beeps that signalled the end of this and every lap, but this time I stopped. Time stood still for a second, or at least it felt like it did, as the enormity of what I had done began to sink in. I had achieved my twelve lap aim and finished 11th lady. Not quite top ten, but I will be back next time to rectify that!

“You don’t need to be fast. But you had better be fearless.”image

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