Sunday, July 16, 2017

Race Review: XNRG Chilterns Ultra

The alarm went off at 0515 and after the initial shock my mind instantly went focused: Today is the Ultra. I went through the pre-race motions like a machine, having done them so many times in the past, but today would be slightly different in that my distance will be the farthest I ever went in one go. Breakfast and kit in tow... we left for Marylebone train station to meet up with other and make our way to Princes Riseborough (~35 minute train journey) for the Chilterns 32 Mile Ultra put on by XNRG.


Shuttle Service: Could not have been easier. Shuttle was there when we arrived and drove us to the school where the start/finish was. Whilst en route I heard there were about 280 entrants, a fair number of other crazies :)

Check-In: Sign in was pretty straight forward, you name gets you your bib and your cool RFID gizmo which is used to check in at all the Check Points. It was not obvious what to do with bags but a simple query got you the answer. Free tea and coffee. Nice bathrooms (think my longest wait was 5 minutes) with plenty of loo paper.

Race Briefing: Short and to the point. Good for newbies like me who were panicking and not 100% listening just due to nerves. Check in at every CP, follow orange arrows, look for tape (with example). Suddenly we were off!

Settling in for the Road Ahead... 

I settled in with Jo, who was also doing her first ultra, for a chat and to get into the rhythm of running. The slight drizzle had turned more into rain at this point. We were hoping it would not be like this the entire time! The views were slightly muffled by the rain but lovely rolling hills could be seen for a pretty long way. 

So people who do races go through the pre-race prep religiously. Some use checklists, some lay all their kit out the night before... just to ensure they have everything they could possibly need. I thought I had this down pretty well. But, as always, something happens that you were not prepared for and leaves you standing there a bit dumbfounded. 

At 8k we passed by some spectators when someone shouted 'You are leaking!'. I was wondering why my backside felt really wet as it wasn't raining that hard. I take out my water bladder... and there is a popped seam at the bottom... and all my water was leaking! Shit. Why don't I have gaffa tape? Was my only thought. I held the bag while Jo tried to use compeed to quick patch it. No luck. Too wet. I was starting to panic. Would I have to DNF all because of a bloody water bladder? Then, an angel appeared with the bib number 73 or 83 (at least I believe it was that number, Jo paid much more attention than me). 

Angel 73|83: Water bladder broke?
Me: Yup... don't happen to have a spare do you?
Angel 73|
83: Why yes, I was just going to ask if you wanted it!

What are the odds of that? I could see someone having a spare water bottle, but a spare bladder? Thank you running Gods! I only hope Angel 73|83 got his water bladder back (if you happen to be reading this and you didn't please let me know, I left at at the results desk for you!). You saved me the extra psychological stress of running sans water or maybe even DNFing.

To be fair the checkpoints were about every 10k or so, which really broke up the course nicely. And gave us a manageable goal to shoot for ('ok just to the next CP...')


Well stocked with water, squash, sweet and savoury snacks. Volunteers would refill your bladders/water bottles for you whilst you refueled. My favorite was CP3 with the sausage rolls... my only regret was not grabbing a handful and stuffing them into my backpack. I also really enjoyed one of the final (more tenuous) road crossings that had brownies on the other side. Nothing like chocolate to push one forward to the end!


A runner in its natural habitat...
Even with the rainy and general overcast weather. The views were phenomenal. We went through forest, fields, and flats (peppered in with some hills of course!). On a hot day I may have found it very displeasing (open areas are death knells to runners when it's baking) but that day was not today. We managed to snag a few photos along the way towards the end. 

Pushing On....

I kept running with Jo, when we got to CP3 she said "Feel free to go on ahead". I said "We came this far together we should finish together".  I always considered myself a lone runner when it came to longer distances but I can honestly say running with someone else really helps the miles to tick away, and you encourage each other (verbally or just being there) to keep going.  For first-time ultra runners, I almost say you should find someone and stick with them... it will do you a load of good mentally. 

The end!

We rolled back into the school amidst cheers and my husband snapping photos or our triumphant return (which happened to be slightly downhill so we could look like we were going 'at speed'). We received our medals and Jo got her certificate for completing her first ultra (I forgot to tick the box, so mine will be coming unceremoniously via Post... RTFM people!). Was it fast? No. But did we finish? YES. 

They had showers (amazing) and again more tea/coffee/cake for consumption. The shuttle service was still in motion so again no worries getting back to the train station. 

Final Thoughts

I may put ultras on the back burner until I can really work on improving my marathon time (Jo and I high-fived when we hit the marathon distance), however in retrospect I do find them very challenging and enticing. I also find the running group VERY friendly-- every race I do of course is a friendly lot but in ultras it seems even more so... it's like everyone knows everyone else is in their own level of personal hell, so we may as well all trudge along together and encourage everyone we pass along the way to help them realise they are not alone and no matter what their efforts are to be celebrated, not scoffed at. 

What is it Churchill said? "If you are going through hell...keep going"

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Falling in Love with Trail Running

View from Ivinghoe Beacon

It's almost official. I think I am in love with trail running. Maybe not all parts of it. I still have a love-hate relationship with hills, but I tend to think I am not alone in that sentiment. I have done two long trail runs in prep for my trail ultra and each one has had its ups and downs (literally). Let's go through the pros and cons I have had in my experiences.


So many options...
  • Not having a car is not always a problem -> Transport is always an issue with a trail run, especially if you do not have a car or are not sure how well you would do after a 25km trail run with the clutch heading back into London. Luckily, there are plenty of options. The Chilterns have stations that are unbelievably close to some epic trails. For example, Tring has the Ivinghoe Beacon and Ashridge Estate. Wendover has the Wendover woods and also you can run by the PM's country estate (Chequers). Oh and the The Ridgeway cuts right through there too! For the Maverick race, the closest station was Bookham and was about 2 miles away? You could also start at Dorking or Box Hill stations for running in Surrey.  However if it's a race you can always check with your local running club to see if anyone is offering a lift. Bring jelly babies as entry fee into the car. Everyone wins!
  • BLUEBELLS -> Of course this is seasonal, but it's hard to be angry when you are running side by side next to a swathe of bluebells. Fact: there are the British Bluebells and Spanish Bluebells in the UK and the Spanish ones are threatening the native British ones! According to the WoodlandTrust, the mixing of the two breeds dilutes the unique characteristics of the British Bluebell. Why am I reminded of Brexit suddenly?
  • Views -> Of course there was a view from the Ivinghoe Beacon (albeit a cloudy one) and I got to see the lion on the chalk face near Whipsnade. In Surrey I got some lovely views of the North Downs Way and saw Pill Boxes built during WWII. 
  • Loops -> If doing a trail run by yourself, you have to do the navigation myself. I used the DwMap feature on my Garmin to get me around the first bit in Tring with not much trouble. As I had to do two loops, the second time was much smoother as I made all the mistakes on the first loop. 
  • Loops -> Can something be a pro and a con? Yes. Loops are familiar but that also something that makes them boring. I could have turned around and run in reverse which still would have kept things saucy. Something about loops I do not like, but it's something I could have easily rectified. The Maverick Race was great as it was just one giant loop, no repetition. Well it was also marshalled and signposted... which means all I have to do it remember to look for the arrows
  • It is VERY tiring -> After both of my trail runs I have needed naps in order to function the rest of the day. Make sure you are not booking anything too tedious after your long trail run--- or makes sure you can fit in a nap. The hills take a lot out of me, much more so than road running.  Maybe over time though I will get accustomed to them. 
  • When You Get Nutrition Wrong.... -> It really goes wrong. I was feeling quite blah with about 4 miles to go at Maverick when there was an aid station. I thought I was doing OK but then I had some of the Skratch Labs water-- oh my goodness. Salt. I was missing salt. It tasted beyond incredible. I went for a second cup. Heaven. I felt like I was flying. That paired with the Raspberry Sports Beans made the last 5k or so feel very speedy. Lesson learned. Salt. Luckily you make this mistake once and (typically) never again... 
  • When Trains Go Wrong... -> I looked up trains from Bookham back to London and found a direct train. Awesome. Just need to make it there. 'Hoofed' it as much as possible after the run to get there on time. Win. Waited. And... waited... No announcements, no change of expected time on the board. What were my other options home? I had none. I had to wait. Train arrived 30 minutes late. Drank beer from the race on the train. yes the Maverick Race gave you a beer when you finished. I was late but still felt like I was winning.  
Basically, if you are thinking about trail running-- go out and do it. With some forethought you will have a very enjoyable time and start to wonder how anyone could do this distance on just roads alone. That being said, I will never give up road running. I think it's important to be comfortable in both, and living in a city, one is just a bit easier to just up and do than the other.  

North Downs Way


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ultra Training: Week 3

Total Miles this Week: 25.85 miles

Still VERY cold
It's always a bit disconcerting when you see less runs the week after in a training schedule. And its not a taper week. No, I checked.

However, I feel that I am doing something right as I was able to do a 10k with a sub 9 minute pace with little to no issues with Mr. Moose. 30 minutes later, I did another 10k (well slightly longer at 6.5 miles) with a sub 8 and mostly into the wind. Not going to lie though, I was well pleased the last 800m was downhill. I also got to put my feet in the icy cold Channel and then walk along the beach. All while munching a chocolate egg. Brill.

I was pretty happy with this week exercise wise. It was a good mix of running and strength:

  • Monday: Run commute from Canary Wharf
  • Tuesday: Spinning
  • Wednesday: 30 minute hill session + Bodycombat 
  • Thursday: Beigel Run
  • Friday: Walkies
  • Saturday: 10k + 10k-ish 
  • Sunday: Easter walkies 
The double session was a bit tricky to fit it, but I felt amazing afterwards, so if I want to continue spin I may need to do that more often. I think I would swap Bodycombat for BodyPump though... such choices. 

Looking out with IOW in the distance...
I was also very lucky that I did some run tourism this weekend in the Bournemouth area. I am a huge believer in going out somewhere new to run (or somewhere you at least don't go to normally to go running). It really revitalises you and also just gives you something different to look at. Sometimes you do not even need to go very far: simply changing the direction of a normal loop or heading some different side streets is enough to add inject some excitement into your 'normal' route. 

Also very excited as the Chase the Sun series has started up again so that will help me inject some faster runs (or maybe just fartleks) into my running during the week. I can do either 5k or 10k, and either way guaranteed chip timing and a delicious flap jack at the end. 

I know my 50k is nothing compared to the AT-- but wow I was definitely motivated after watching this documentary on Karl Meltzer beating the course record. So inspiring! So much calories!

I hope everyone had an amazing Easter weekend. I think we need more four day weekends don't you?

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Ultra Training: Week 2

Total Miles this Week: 27.75 miles

Hello Bridge! 
So it turned out the week of the hendo I went to was actually week one... oops! Let's just crack on with week two.

I am determined to incorporate more cross training into my workout, so I did a Bodypump class this week as well as a Core beatdown/workout put on by the nice people over at Tribe in Shoreditch. Of course we did have to run to Haggerston Park and did sprints in between the core sets. Never mind! I also did a beigel run on Thursday morning with the love AR collective. Been a while and was so great to hear stories from Manchester. Tell you what-- the earlier sunrises really makes those 6am starts a lot easier.

And... this is where is started to go a bit wrong. I read that a bagel shop up in Angel was doing a promotion for £1 salt beef bagels for lunch. I checked mapmyRun. Definitely doable for a lunch time run there and back as long as the queue wouldn't be too long. I dutifully packed my bag the night before and was looking forward to a nice sunny lunch run.

Friday at work I am getting ready to run. Sports bra? Check. Socks? Check. Running shorts? Check. Shoes? ....... No shoes! I was almost giving up when I realised I was sporting a pair of Converse AllStars (yay casual Friday). Should I run in them? I decided yes, how bad could it be? Its about a 5k round trip!

Classic gin wench attire :D
Well, since that nice run (and nice bagel I should add) my feet/ankles have not been the same. I ran a total 15.5 miles this weekend and my ankle still feels funny :( However I was NOT going to miss my SecretLondon Gin run and wow the weather this weekend was pretty brilliant wasn't it?

So niggles aside, I am trying to get back into the swing of running and its going OK so far! I really need to allocate some time on the weekends for longer runs though. I am not running 50k over two days, just one. SO next week I hope to do my LSR in one day (14 miles). Also if I am lucky get on some trails soon.

I hope everyone else had a brilliant weekend running, be it for a race, for fun, or for training. Remember you got out there and did it and that is the hardest thing!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Escape to Trail: Run Review

Some Sights from the Trail
I signed up for this run (Escape to Trail Series) I believe last year when I was training for Honolulu and was putting more mileage in. It sounded ideal though, a low cost (£12.50) race close to London on a trail, accessible by trains (even Oyster Card!), and a good distance between a half and a full. The organizer (Dean) was very quick to answer all of my questions. Are there water stations? No. Is there a bag drop? No. It was a charity run -- so not only does it feed my running soul, it feeds my feel-good karma soul.
I arrived at Enfield Chase with about 20 minutes to spare, and although there was some initial confusion, all the runners basically grouped together and located the greasy spoon where we were setting off from. One loo, much queue. Good thing I didn't need to go too badly.

Race Itself: This was epic. I am so glad I know about this route now. It will make some awesome training runs later. We ran 17 miles of the New River Path (28 miles total). Think Regents canal but not nearly as crowded and more animals.  With start/finish points in Islington and Hertford, it has awesome transport links. Although the sign posting at times was a bit off (I was glad I was close to other runners) and some fallen trees blocking paths, the route was generally easy to follow. Did I stop to check my route at times? Once right near the end.  Again for the entry cost I am not going to fault the organizers for it. They did provide a Strava Route for us to follow if need be. The end was clearly posted and thats what matters. There was even a goody bag (Bounce energy ball, Coconut Water, and an Up & Go breakfast drink), which I was happy with given the cost of entry. I have paid more and received worse goody bags.

Everyone was friendly. Course was brilliant. Finish line was obvious which is really what you need.

Finish: The pub where we finished had awesome staff and delicious food. A friend who lives nearby met me there and we had a delicious chicken burger and chips. THEY DO A DUCK RACE ON THE EASTER WEEKEND. How adorable is that? Very.  Close to Hertford East train station which has trains into Liverpool Street and accepts Oyster. Hertford North is a bit farther and does not take Oyster, but drop you off at Moorgate. So again, many options.

When In Doubt... Slow Down... 
Personal: I knew physically I was not ready for this run. When talking to my friend who was trying to gauge when to meet me at the pub, I gave her an estimate which equated to a 10-11 minute mile pacing. I had not done anything longer than 10 miles this year, so I figured I should be on the more cautious side. I finished just outside my range with an average pace of 11:01 min/miles. It was very tough mentally and with about a 10k left I just switched off my pacing alerts on my Garmin. I was finding them annoying and de-motivating. I figured it is best to let me body get into whatever pace it felt would be good given the situation.

I think the aspect which disappointed the most was just how drained and sore I felt after. I am trying to chalk it up to lack of time on my feet lately in terms of long runs, but its it hard when thinking back to last year when doing back to back 16 mile days was not an issue. It's learning to tune out those niggles of doubt and remind yourself that with training those days will come back.