When it’s not the Moonlight that’s Challenging

SVN Moonlight ChallengeWell that didn’t go quite to plan!

On Saturday I headed down to Kent for the SVN Moonlight Challenge. This was on a new course for me (and SVN) and with loops of about 10km and an 8 hour cut-off, so I was hoping to get about 33 miles done. I love running in the dark, so was looking forward to this race as it ran from 4pm to midnight, giving me plenty of time in the dark to practice running with my head torch.

SVN Moonlight ChallengeI set off and settled into a pace that felt good, I was comfortable, not pushing too hard all felt great. I got the first lap done in 75 minutes, perhaps slightly fast, but I was feeling good and after a quick pit stop I set out on lap two. Again, I was running on feel….bimbling along happily and enjoying being outside in the fresh air!

This was the first mistake! Running by feel and not following my Garmin stats…I was sticking to my planned 4:1 run/walk strategy but running faster than I should have been.  I just didn’t realise it! Lap 2 was done, I grabbed fresh Tailwind bottles and headed out for lap 3. I decided to try something different at that point (testing pace ratios for my upcoming 50 miler) and decided I would do a lap at 2:1 to see how that panned out.

SVN Moonlight ChallengeHere comes mistake number 2! Shortly into lap 3 my temperature spiked & I knew I was working too hard. Since I was only running for 2 minutes at a time, not 4, I had subconsciously picked up my pace! I dropped pace and tried to settle down but the damage was done. It probably didn’t help that I had a small backpack on, making it hard for my upper body heat to escape, but as there will be days when I have to wear a pack to carry mandatory kit, I need to find a way to balance the practicalities of racing and my internal combustion issues.

Throughout lap 3 I was struggling to keep my temperature down, and my stomach under control (lesson learned – increase in core temperature definitely causes my emergency poop reflex! Thankfully I managed to do the loop without needing to stop on the side of the trail!).

As I ran I was trying to distract myself from thinking too much about needing a pit stop. I was busy listening to my music, and for once had it on the All Songs playlist. It’s funny that there are so many songs that you have loved in the past but forgotten about, that crop up when you least expect it. It made me think that I should probably listen to more music at home. At the moment I only listen to music when I run, but I think that when we eventually get our own house I might look into getting a wireless music system put in. I’ve seen these Panasonic Wireless Speakers that look really cool, so I’ll be adding them to my list of possible purchases when we have the space and the cash! Maybe then I’ll be able to remember what music I have available and get some new playlists prepped so I don’t listen to the same 30 songs over and over again.

SVN Moonlight ChallengeThings weren’t going great and in the final third of lap 3 I did a quick check of my heartrate, it showed as being up at 200bpm…..oops!!

The Boyf caught up with me at that point (as he was on lap 4) and I brought him up to date, but let him know I was OK and would just be taking it steady on my 4th lap (needed to get the marathon distance). When I got back to base camp the Boyf was there waiting for me! He wanted to make sure I was OK and when he knew I was going out again he sacrificed his race plans and decided to do the lap with me. We set out nice and steadily, mostly on a 1:1 run walk, but at a much slower pace than I had been doing. Anytime I felt like I was struggling we slowed down and took it easy. All in all things went well and by the time we hit the last road section to the finish I was able to put in some solid running without stopping to walk. I had finally got my temperature back under control (or my body knew the end was in sight) and we managed a sprint(ish) finish for me to get in and ring the bell at 5:51:39.

SVN Moonlight ChallengeI could have gone out for another lap, I had over 2 hours to walk 10km to get my planned 33 miles, but there didn’t seem to be much point in possibly stressing my body further. Instead I got changed and relaxed whilst the Boyf headed out to get his 6th lap of the day done!

All in all, I have learned that using my Garmin IS beneficial! If I had been watching my pace then it is likely I would have slowed down straight away, I would have been running well within my limitations and not gone crazy when I dropped to the 2:1 intervals and probably would have stayed pretty cool and managed to get 33 miles done comfortably!

So note to self, if you think you’re going slow enough, slow down! And use your Garmin!! I’ll be making very sure I stay very slow at the upcoming Fowlmead 50 race…..here’s hoping it works!

Taper time!

It could be said that I am in the minority, when it comes to both training and tapering, with a large bunch of the runners that I know.  They regularly run one or more marathons a week, in the race to attain 100 marathons or more.  I am taking things a little more calmly than that this year, and am mostly paying attention to my TrainAsONE plan….there are a lot less “off plan” marathons sneaking in this year!

I really want to enjoy my running and it’s important for me to balance life, work, running and supporting the Boyf with his race plans for the year too.  So I have eased back a bit and am enjoying the way my plan keeps the balance between distance and speed work.  My running distance has been less over the last two months than the equivalent time last year.  Not by much, but it’s enough that a runner could get freaked out by it and start to panic that they were under training. 

February trainingHaving run a number of sessions with the Boyf though, he has confirmed I am getting stronger and faster (backed up by the recent increase in my training pace after the TrainAsONE assessments I did).  This is a good confidence booster, as I was feeling strong in my December race too.  I’m hoping that in my race this weekend I’ll be able to get a good leg stretch and test out my Tailwind strategy for the rest of the year’s races.  I have my fingers crossed for a light breeze and cool temperatures to allow me to keep a decent pace and not overheat (for a change).

February trainingIt’s going to be a tricky race to pace as the laps are about 10km in length and whilst we have 8 hours alllcated for running, you need to be out on the last lap 6.5 hours after the start.  If all goes to plan I’ll be aiming to complete an ultra-marathon….it sounds a lot for a first race back, but when you have longer races coming up you just have to dive in!  The good thing is that I know huge distances in training aren’t essential to complete a marathon…my trust in TrainAsONE has paid off more than once and I know that as long as I get my head in the right place and conditions allow, I’ll be able to put in a strong performance.  With my longest run in the last two months coming in at around 16km (and that was because I combined 2 sessions), I know that I am not at a disadvantage compared to those banging out 18 – 22 mile long runs because I get to rest, recover and work on my speed (the best way to improve overall performance).

So what am I going to do to beat taper-mania?  Well I might spend some time doing some yoga (I have been a bit slack recently), and I will definitely be keeping up with my Butt Builder Challenge as this is helping my power on runs too.

Do you have any tricks for not going stir-crazy when you can’t train?

Race Review: Robin Hood 100


I went for another run at the weekend (Robin Hood 100). It was supposed to be a pleasant, 100 mile bimble along the Chesterfield Canal, round Sherwood Forest twice and then back along the canal. What actually happened was the first canal bit and the first loop!

The day started off brilliantly when we couldn’t get out of the hotel car park because the code to lift the barrier wouldn’t work. Not for us, or the night porter. In the end he had to switch the barrier on and off again to trigger the “IN” barrier to lift as we drove through at high speed, hoping we would make it before the barrier dropped on us. Luckily we, and the car, survived.

Of course this still wasn’t a huge issue as due to my love of being early for stuff I think we were still in the first 5 runners to arrive at registration. Numbers allocated, RaceDrone trackers collected we set about faffing for the next hour. Getting Tailwind into bottles, drop bags loaded to the van to be taken to Aid Station 3, numerous trips to the loo, deciding if I wanted my jacket out (light drizzle) or not (drizzle had stopped). In the end I went for arm sleeves instead and it was the right move.

The Boyf and I set off at 8am, taking it steady and positioning ourselves near the back of the pack. We weren’t in a hurry and the plan was to run 4 mins:walk 1 minute from the start. We stuck to this and made good time along the canal, reaching the first aid station (10.4 miles away) in just over 2 hours. A refill of our Tailwind….conveniently packaged in individual plastic bags, snip the corner, add powder to bottle, top up and away we went. The scenery was lovely and the course was empty! We barely saw anyone in the first 20 miles other than a couple of dog walkers, a runner and the aid station crews. We did see sheep, horses, pigs, cows and a king fisher!

Aid station 2 was just off the canal at 16.2 miles and we hit this at 11:32. Another bottle top up with Tailwind and here we went with the refined technique of adding the water to the plastic bag, a quick shake to dissolve and then snip the corner to pour the water into the bottle before topping up. Much quicker and a lot less sticky (plus the powder doesn’t blow everywhere). I was also adding Peppermint Oil or Sicilian Lemon Juice into a couple of the bottles to add extra zing! Plus the peppermint is great for cooling and keeping your stomach settled.

Aid Station 3 was just under 3 miles away (19.06) and we were there by 12:19. Although I had up to 20 mins on my plan to stop here we probably weren’t more than 5 minutes. Another Tailwind top up and a swap out of our first fresh bag of Tailwind and gels to cover us for the next 30 miles. Can you sense a theme here? It’s all about the Tailwind!!

Robin Hood 100
We continued to make good progress to Aid Station 4, we were into the forest trails now with greater tree coverage and an increase in humidity but the run:walk strategy was working well and we were making good time. Still slightly ahead of my “ideal” zone on my planner. Hurrah!

Aid Station 4 to 5 was where I started to feel the heat. Not the external heat so much as my internal heat. I could start to feel my temperature increase but at this point I wasn’t really acknowledging it. I think the Boyf may have noticed a slight slowing in my pace but I think at that point he put it down to me running the undulations. As he put it afterwards, I was running stuff he would normally have walked on a 24 hour race like Spitfire Scramble. At this point though I was happy, not feeling like I was trying to hard and felt as though I was running well within my limits.

Robin Hood 100

Aid Station 5, 27.78 miles was reached in 6 hours 37 minutes and after topping up my bottles I poured a glass of water over the back of my neck. This helped me fell refreshed and we headed off into the 10 mile loop that would take us past the Major Oak. I was really enjoying myself and the scenery, but as we dropped down into the forest the humidity started to take its toll. Once we were past the Major Oak we were finding more ups than downs and we adjusted the run walk a bit more to have slightly longer walk breaks to keep me feeling in good shape. By the end of the 10 miles things were starting to be more of a struggle though.

We arrived back at Aid Station 5 having taken 2 hours 40 minutes. So about 30 minutes longer than our 10ish miles along the canal had taken, but considering our legs were less fresh and the course was more undulating that isn’t a bad drop off. This aid turnaround took slightly longer, I had removed my t-shirt in a bid to cool off, got my water bottles refilled with more Tailwind and took time to get myself bug-proofed with Avon Skin So Soft…..this worked as I only have 1 mosquito bite on my ankle and whilst it’s a bit red it hasn’t blistered like the last 2 mega-bites I have had.

The Boyf and I headed off to Aid Station 6, this section was less fun, there was a lot more running on actual road, and the local drivers weren’t really fussed about giving us much room. Plus my internal temperature was really starting to spike. Despite not having any nausea at all (thanks Tailwind), I did start to get a couple of vomit-burps bubbling up. Not a good sign….this meant I was starting to properly over-heat and my body wasn’t happy about this. We were about 40 miles in when it really all did go wrong. Despite having my cooling rag round my neck I just couldn’t keep the pace. We slowed to a walk in a bid to try and keep me cool but by the time we got to Aid Station 6 I was pretty sure that it was game over.

Robin Hood 100

A lot of chat and analysis was going on as we kept pushing forward, but it was obvious I wasn’t able to run any more. My legs were feeling strong and I could keep my pace up, but if I did my temperature spiked and that wasn’t good. What was a worry was that we were pretty much alone on the trail, in the middle of nowhere with no mobile signal. We had trackers with an SOS button but didn’t really want to get in a state where we needed to use those. We carried on from Aid Station 6 to Aid Station 3 (back at the start of the 30 mile loop) as dusk, then darkness fell and decided that we would call it a day. There was no way it would have been sensible to set out for the 30 mile loop again. Yes I could have walked the remainder of the race, but I didn’t set out to walk 100 miles, I set out to run 100 miles! This wasn’t about gutting it out and ultra-shuffling to the end. If I was going to do it I wanted to do it safely AND in (some semblance) of style.

So we decided enough was enough….a gutting decision to make, especially as we were meeting our lovely crew member Fiona back at Aid Station 3 as she was going to look after us throughout the night. Best laid plans and all that! So at 20:41, 12 hours 41 minutes after starting we reached the 48.66 mile point (80.11km in Garmin distance) and handed in our trackers.

Huge thanks go to the volunteers who fed the Boyf soup (I couldn’t risk it for fear of triggering more over heating) and helped us get in touch with Fiona when we couldn’t get a mobile signal. She eventually managed to find the aid station location (not easy in the pitch-black with a post code that didn’t match the real-world presence of the station) and rescued us. A trip back to the village hall start point, a chance to change into fresh clothes, and then we headed to McDonald’s for a chat and burger. I can’t thank Fi enough for trekking halfway up the country, sitting and chatting to us before driving home again with minimal crewing complete.

We were back home before 3am, bathed in Radox Bubble bath with added Epsom Salts and Rosemary Oil (the perfect recovery combo, and the rosemary oil is great for soothing irritated skin e.g. mossie bites and bramble grazes!) and that was me out cold! Not the race I had planned but one that has given me much food for thought and a reignited plan for the future. More on that to follow!

My planned pace and real time arrivals:
My pace chart from Robin Hood 100....it was all going so well. Blog post to follow soon 😄

Garmin Stats (click if you can’t see the embedded version):

Race Review: Endure24 #marathon20

Last weekend was Endure24, a 24 hour race in Wasing Park, Aldermaston and my first 24 hour event as a solo runner.  I had entered the race as prep for next month’s 100 mile run at Samphire Hoe, and it was never my intention to run the full 24 hours, it was more to be a test event and one in which I ran through the night as practice to ensure I could stay awake throughout the dark section of the race.  As the race got closer I shifted my plan from sitting around from race start until sunset, then running through the night and stopping to a plan I hoped would give me some options for Samphire 100.  Instead I planned on walking the daylight section, before transitioning to running at night.  As I am not a fan of hot weather it is a worry for me that the 100 will be on the hottest weekend of the year and I will melt.  I wanted to see if I could manage to walk for a significant time and then pick up the pace so that I have some options available to me if required.

We rocked up to the park on Friday in order to get a good spot in the solo area and check the new tent worked.  It did! Speedily pitched and new tent neighbours impressed we were up and in place.  We spent the afternoon chilling in the tent, recce-ing some of the course and then escaping to the relaxed and comfortable hotel I had booked up the road!  One thing I was sure of was that I wanted to be fully rested when the race started, not grumpy from an uncomfortable night in a tent.

We returned on Saturday morning, around 6:30am complete with McDonald’s (breakfast for me, Egg McMuffins on hold for Jools mid-race), and two cool boxes filled with ice from the hotel’s ice machine….total win as it meant I had no need to hit Sainsbury’s for ice on the way to the race.  We then proceeded to get set up and then dozed a bit.  Two cool boxes for drinks (& cheese and marmite rolls, cheese and pickle for Jools) and then a wide selection of food to munch throughout the race.

My final plan for the race was walk from the start until 8pm when head torches would be required, try and pick the pace up to a run and keep going until daybreak.  We headed to the start for 12pm, I made sure I was near the back and we were off!  I am a pretty fast walker, and I wanted to make sure that I was attacking the race with more of a power-hike than a dawdle.  The laps were 5 miles (8km) long, and that meant that I would have to complete 6 laps & 30 miles for this to count as a marathon in race terms.  The course was a nice mix of undulations, anything remotely like an up-hill would be walked even in the latter stages of the race, but I could see some bits that would be lovely for running on once I picked the pace up.  I also wanted to try and keep my “aid station” stops to a minimum if I could, although I had also said I would help crew the Boyf if needed so was planning on being quite flexible on timings.  I got laps one and two completed in 1:08:12 and 1:10:03, not bad at all.  After my second lap I stopped to pick up my poles.  I wanted to try them out before I was too tired to work out how to use them, just in case I did want to use them in the night.  They do take a bit of getting used to, but they are brilliant on steep up hills.  Overall they slowed me a little, but I can see that when you aren’t moving at too hiking pace, or the terrain is tougher then they would be brilliant.  I dropped them back at the tent and was planning to double-up the laps again to go direct to lap 5 without a stop but then I got a crew request from the Boyf and stopped again after lap 4 to do a water bottle top up for him.  I did the same after lap 5 and then headed out on lap 6 still moving really well and without any real pain or issues. I completed my 6th lap, and 30 miles in 7:49:02, ahead of the 8pm cutoff for collecting head torches.  Considering the extra time I had taken on crew/aid station stops I was happy with this and then decided to take the time to change clothes and socks before heading out into the dark and seeing if I could run.  My feet felt OK, I put more Gurney Goo on them and a fresh set of socks, but should probably have paid more attention to a small hot spot/blister that had formed under the rear of my left arch.  It didn’t look like a problem though so I stupidly ignored it.

30 miles walked in under 8 hours. Kit changed, head torch picked up and back out! Bring it on! #walkrungetitdone #juneathon #runstrong #runlong #marathonmaniac #thisgirlcan #loverunning #trainasone #trainsmarternotharder #garmin #fenix3hr #fabletics #fablHead torch on and I was off out for the next 5 miles.  I walked the long, gentle hill and then transitioned into a run walk strategy.  It felt good, I had a fairly fast pace and nothing really hurt.  I put in a fastish lap time and then went out for another one.  It was here that it all started to go a bit wrong.  I started to feel quite sick everytime I picked up the pace, and my foot started to notice the blister.  Shortly after 11pm I decided to visit the First Aid tent and get it looked at.  Drained and bandaged I was soon back out, but the nausea wouldn’t shift and I was constantly needing to stop for the loo.  I was walking more than running, but I was still moving forward.  The key thing was to keep moving until sunrise and see how far I could get. I finally reached the 50 mile point in 14:52:56, I was still moving OK and my bandaged foot was mostly pain free but I was feeling every stone and surface transition, tiredness was setting in but I knew it would soon be daylight.  I did another clothes swap, this was an essential one as I had managed to get sawdust all over my bum and shorts (it was used to “flush” the loos out by the water station) when I was rushing on another wee stop and it was itching like crazy.  I decided sawdust chafage was not going to be pretty and was grateful for clean leggings before heading out into the unknown of “beyond 50 miles”.  

I walked what was to be my last lap with the Boyf, collected a third hug from Paul Spooner & his fellow marshal Nick, and then chatting to Alex Penny.  Sunrise came and I decided that enough was enough, I had made it through the night, seen I could pick up the pace after walking a while, and couldn’t see any benefit to putting extra mileage in my legs. We did ponder going out again but in the end decided we had done what we had set out to do.  Shortly after I had crawled into the sleeping bag I heard the rain start to fall…..totally stoked to be in the tent and not halfway round the course!

What did I learn? 

  • Getting a massage when you wake up from a 2 hour nap is brilliant, my legs really benefitted and I managed to drive home without stiffening up top much, I even waddled less between the car and the house!
  • Blow-up tents are brilliant! It was quick to pitch and take down, meaning we actually took it home rather than just binning.
  • If you are weeing lots then your electrolytes are probably out of whack, don’t think that just because you are walking you can get away with just drinking water (that certainly didn’t work for me).  This probably also accounted for the nausea.
  • Walking for 30 miles in your running trainers that promote mid-foot strike will cause a blister. Run:walk is ok because the movement is varied, but nearly 8 hours of walking in them was not a good move.
  • I can pick up the pace after walking for 30 miles…..hurrah!  If I do have to resort to this at Samphire I will switch to my “walking” trainers though, hopefully that will minimise unwanted chafage and random blisters.
  • I really enjoyed Endure24, I extended my distance PB to 55 miles, kept moving forwards from dusk till dawn and my legs were still working.  It wasn’t the perfect race, but I made the right mistakes and it means I go into next month’s big one feeling like I can battle my way from start to finish!  I have 32 hours to do it, and if I have to take that long to get it done then I will.  I want the buckle & finisher’s t-shirt!

Lap Splits:

Endure24 lap splits

Click here for Garmin stats if you can’t see them below:

Endure24 Summary

Endure24 graphs

Race Review: Kent Road Runner #marathon19

I signed up for the Kent Road Runner a year ago, just after friends had run the race and the Facebook hype was high.  At that point in time I had only run 1 marathon (and 2 ultras).  Fast forward 12 months and KRR was marathon 19 (count includes ultras)!  In that time I have run good races and bad, and whilst KRR wasn’t even close to being the worst race I have ever run (that has to go to Lydd 20) it didn’t live up to the hype for me.

Yes, it was well organised, yes it had a big medal, but if I hadn’t made so many friends over the last 12 months then I think it would have been a lonely 21 laps!  There were some ace supporters, and enough people that I knew on the race crew for me to feel as though they cared but it’s also a “road race” and that means run clubbers out for their 1 marathon of the year (or maybe 2 if they are on a 6 month training cycle)!

I’m not a fan of run clubbers, yes some of my friends belong to run clubs, I realise they aren’t all bad….but I hate the runners who barge you out of the way because they feel they have more right to that part of the track than you, or they deserve to grab that jelly baby, or are determined to snatch that water cup before your hand can close on it.  Unfortunately KRR had its share of runners like this, and that takes the enjoyment out of it a bit for me.

I was running the race with my friend Nikki, making her give run:walk ago to see if we could get her in within the cutoff, rather than her foregoing the race completely due to lack of training (if you can consider completing Brighton & London marathons earlier this year, by walking them both, a lack of training).  I was definitely taking her out of her comfort zone, but I like to think it was in a good way.  We chatted, ate a bit, ran a bit, walked a bit.  Rather than sticking to a fixed time strategy we decided to go with the undulations.  Run the downs (till our quads were hurting too much), run/walk the flats and power hike the hills…..it worked well and we ran past the personal drinks zone, walked from the portaloos, run down the hill, hike the hill, run round the mound to the poppies, walk to the next poppy, run down and round the bend before the long hike up the hill.  We made the half-way cutoff and ploughed onwards.  As time went on our pace slowed a bit, but we were still running and making a good pace on the run sections.  Nikki was starting to ache a bit, so we increased the walking to balance out the downs that were starting to get a bit painful for her.

KRRUnfortunately we hadn’t quite managed to stick to a fast enough average pace to finish ahead of the 6 hour cutoff, but Ian one of the race organisers graciously gave us the opportunity to see if we could complete the remaining laps by 30 mins after the planned cutoff.  We had already decided we wanted to give it a go….and off we went.  The pressure was piled on slightly but we decided to just keep going until we had finished or been pulled from the course.  After all, Nikki had very nearly not started, so even if we didn’t get the official finish we had had a good training run.  Thankfully we made it round to finish in 6:33:50 and get our medals.

Would I do the race again? Yes, if I was after a fast, road race, with a lapped route I could power round without worrying about uneven terrain or massive hills.

What would make it better for me?  More clarity on the cutoffs.  It became clear after the race that pressure was being piled on by the owners of the site the course was on.  Being clear upfront that all runners need to be offsite by time X or they’d be locked in all night would make sure there was no ambiguity and no one would look at finish times from previous years and think they would be OK.  Set the mid-race cutoff at 3 hours, people generally get slower in the second half of a marathon and it gives them more leeway to make the final cutoff without having to run a huge negative split.  Finally, have a sweeper, set them loose after the mid-race cutoff and give the slower runners more warning that they might be pulled.  By making it clear that if you drop behind the pacer and haven’t caught up by the end of the lap then you are out would mean you don’t find yourself right up against the wire with the finish in sight but the hope of a medal has gone.

All in all it was a nice day out with friends (too many to mention as someone will only get offended), and marathon 19 in the bag (by the skin of my teeth)!

Click me for Garmin stats if you can’t see the details below: