Sunday, 14 December 2014

Series victory - a year of work comes down to a 200 metre sprint at the end of a race!!

I had a handful of running targets for 2014.  After having Daniel at the end of February I aimed primarily for a marathon PB (as mentioned in my last post).  I also wanted to work on my speed and so hoped i should be able to achieve a 5km PB too. Given the way I was able to run back in my hey-day (2008-2009) these PBs were both pretty soft.  They still are in the grand scheme of things but a PB is a PB.
Another target I had, which I have kept to myself all year, was to try and win our club 5km handicap series for 2014.  All the runners are given handicapped starts based on their recent form/performances and points are applied at each race depending on where you finish.  The idea is that over the course of the year the person who has improved the most wins.  It's a great scheme for the club to run as it means that it gives EVERYONE a chance to be rewarded for their hard work, not just those who are fastest and are accustomed to getting awards/prizes.  The key is to continually work hard, put the effort in and try your absolute hardest in every race.
Going into the final race of the series it was mathematically possible for 6 people to win the series, and I was one of them.  Five of the runners (myself included) had to achieve a certain minimum number of points AND finish ahead of the current series leader.
After running a PB last month I was doubtful that I would achieve what I needed at the race, and when I was given my handicap time, starting 2 full minutes behind the series leader my head dropped.  And it remained down for the entire first lap of the race.  I was working as hard as I could, but the freezing conditions meant my legs were feeling really stiff and slow and I just couldn't find my pace at all.  I couldn't see anyone in front of meant I thought my whole year was lost.
With 1.25 miles to go I was passed by another runner.  Although faster than me, he wasn't pulling away and I decided to try and use him to pull me along mentally.  Not long after he passed I caught a glimpse of the series leader far in the distance and that gave me a real mental boost.  The gap seemed too much to close down but I knew I had to give it my best shot.  I hadn't worked all year to give up with just over 1 mile left.  Then another runner passed me; a fellow possible series victory contender.  He was moving very well and closing down on the series leader.  I was worried if he passed the leader then they might spur each other on and I would struggle to close the gap.  I was still keeping up with the other runner that had overtaken me and we were closing down the series leader.  She hadn't responded to the other runner passing her so with half a mile to go I passed her.  I wondered if she would have a final kick and I was also unsure how many runners were ahead of me (and therefore would I win enough points from the race) so i thought if I am going to have a chance of winning outright I would need to try and find one last surge to re-overtake the runner who had passed me earlier.  A quarter mile to go and I found a gear I didn't realise I had.  I think sometimes these gears can only be found in these crucial moments where everything hangs in the balance.   I went ahead, I took the racing line and I put the afterburners on.  Down under the underpass; he was still right behind me. Up the other side; he was still there.  In my mind I had 200 meters in which I would either win or lose the victory I had so desperately worked for all year.  I was red-lining like never before.  I was running faster than I thought was possible for me.  When you are so close to acheiveing something amazing things can happen if you want it enough.  I finished ahead of him.
Amazing = 5:27 minute miling for the final 200 metres!  I have never managed to run that fast, ever, not even when doing 200 metre reps!!
I had done all I would but still couldn't be sure whether it was enough.  I checked on my finishing position before I left.  I thought it was enough but i didn't want to get excited until I had got the confirmation email from the organiser.  That came early on Friday morning.  I had done it!!  I jumped around like a loony-tune much to the amusement of my children.  I was so, so pleased.  That is what I worked hard for.  All those speed sessions the track and the sessions on the treadmill.  Finally an 'official' piece of recognition for what I have been trying so hard to achieve.

Next weekend is my final running event of the year.  Barcelona 12 hour race.  I entered on impulse back in the summer, and if I hadn't already paid for flights etc and made arrangements I would happily not go.  I haven't had the chance to do the necessary training for it.  I am still not 100% after having the chest infection and whilst you can get away with that over 5k, a 12 hour race is a whole different ballgame.  It will very much be an exercise in pain endurance rather than anything else.  I just hope not to embarrass myself when running round the same track as world class athletes.  I will target a PB and hopefully I can manage that. (It's that long since I ran an ultra, and even longer since I ran them regularly that I feel like a complete newbie!)

This time next week and i will be done and I can start thinking about next year's plans and my new training approach that I am going to be trying out.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

A year in one post - 2014, and what's yet to come

So, what have I done so far?

I ran 1 mile on january 1st.

I had baby #2 at the end of February.

I took a few weeks to recover before starting back, and I was much better at listening to my body than after pregnancy #1.  Also, this pregnancy and labour were less traumatic than the first time round which really helped my recovery.

To measure my improvement and 'journey' towards getting my fitness back I have been doing the DRC monthly 5km handicaps (just as I did when I was pregnant).  They are a great way to just keep an eye on things. I ran my first one back in May in 26:20 and I've gradually got faster each month so that in the November edition of the race I ran a new 5km PB of 22:32.  Compared to the old days this is a soft PB as it's roughly the same pace as my 10km PB.  But a PB is a PB and never to be sniffed at.

I set myself a 'comeback' goal just as I did after having Annabel.  Again, the target was to run a marathon PB.  I starting building up the miles but in June I suffered from Metatarsalgia (bruising of the bone in both my feet). This was essentially caused by too many miles whilst my ligaments were still being affected by pregnancy/post-pregancy hormones. (A luck of the draw situation really).  So 3 full weeks of no running was then followed by a month of running exclusively on the treadmill.

A holiday in the Lakes then inspired me to set one of my target races for 2015 - the Lakeland 50.  What an awesome event.  I can't wait to be part of it next year.

I then ran my highest ever training monthly mileage (200+) in September ready to taper for my marathon target race in October.

The Majorca Marathon was a total no-go.  The weather was stupid-hot - 31 degrees celsius!! I've never run in anything like that so I decided beforehand to just go for a finish, and not a time, and to find another marathon to run.

November brought the Autumn Shakespeare Marathon.  I started back at work the week before; I had suffered an awful head and chest cold for the 10 days prior to the race and I had to make a 5 hour journey down to the race the afternoon before and I really wasn't as race-fit as I had been going to Majorca.  It really shouldn't have happened but I managed to gut out a new PB.  I think because I knew it was my last chance to achieve my post-baby target I simply was not going to come away from that race without a PB, and despite puking and getting a stitch I still managed to pull it off.  There's something to be said for being in the 'last chance saloon' situation for getting a performance out of you.

As mentioned above, I also ran the November 5km handicap race (6 days after the marathon) and achieved another PB.  That one I definitely did NOT expect.  Hopefully I can get one more good time at the December race.

In December I am running one final proper race for the year.  It's a bit of a mad one really considering Daniel won't even be 10 months old but I'm making a wee trip over to Barcelona with my friend SG to run a 12 hour track race. I have no idea what I can expect from myself, but SG has promised to shout lots of abuse at me if I start trying to throw the toys out of the pram.  Team Consani are heading out there too, as are a few other Brits so it should be an exciting weekend.

For 2015 I only have 2 races planned so far - the Highland Fling on April 25th and the Lakeland 50 on July 25th. I did half think about entering the West Highland Way Race (entries close in 3 days) but I just don't think I can give it my best possible performance in 2015.  Perhaps by 2016 I will feel strong enough to tackle it again.  But I am also thinking about the Lakeland 100 for 2016, and I can't do them both - I'm no Richie Cunningham!!

2016 will definitely be about the 100 Miler as I need to run one in order to qualify for the Western States 100 lottery.  Western States is such a tough race to get into as it's one of the most prestigious ultra races on the planet and everybody and their dog want to race it, but there are only 369 places each year.  So once you qualify for the lottery (by running one of their qualifying races or by other means) the chances of actually getting a place are slim to none, at best, unless you are super lucky.  Their system though favours the persistent, and each year that you apply, you get a better chance of getting in.  So as of 2016 I will need to make sure I run a 100 Miler each year so that I can keep entering the WS100 lottery, and hopefully, before  turn 40, I will get that coveted entry! Fingers crossed.

So there you have it, a summary of 2014 and my plans for probably the next 5 years, all in one blog post! How terribly efficient of me!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Treadmill running or dreadmill running? How you too can learn to love the treadmill.

In recent months I have had to run a lot of my miles on a treadmill.  I am no stranger to treadmill running as it fits well into parenthood, but due to post-pregnancy injury issues I went through a spell of ONLY running on a treadmill for a number of weeks.  Sounds like a runner's worst nightmare right?  WRONG!

Here is a wee article by yours truelyall about the joys and benefits of treadmill running:

Treadmill or dreadmill?


Monday, 9 June 2014


There are many female and male runners who have inspired me over the years since I started running.  There are many reasons why these runners inspire me, and I thought this would be a great regular feature to have on my blog.  I will list those who have been inspiring me from the start, those who I have discovered through my own journey in running, my current running muses, and those who achieve a stand-out performance as we go forward.  As such it will be possible to appear on these lists multiple times.  These lists are obviously personal to me, but maybe some people who appear on them may inspire you too.

So, let's see who gets the honour of being on my first list...


1. Maggie Gray (my DRC club mate) - for supporting me in my running from the very first day I laced up my running shoes. And for always wanting to support others in their running.
2. Fiona Rennie - life has thrown a lot at Fiona and yet she has the most wonderful attitude towards life and running.  Fiona is a fighter, but she fights with the sort of positivity most of us can only hope to achieve.  I dare you to read her blog and not be inspired - it's just not possible.
3. Anna Frost - for the patience to stop and listen to her body, recover from injury (over 18 long months), and run an amazing record-breaking race at Transvulcania 2014.
4. Ellie Greenwood - her never-give-up attitude saw her come back from a year of injury to win the Comrades Marathon 2014.
5. Sally McCrae - I absolutely love the yellowrunner. The Nike Elite Trail Team runner, endurance coach and mother shows that you can be dedicated to all parts of your life and be successful.


1. Paul Hart - nobody supports me or believes in me more than my other half Paul. His list of achievements (the greatest of which was marrying me of course!) will always inspire me to keep trying my best.
2. Dean Karnazes - Dean's book Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All Night Runner was one of the first books I read on ultrarunning, and it got me hooked.
3. Ian Corless - Ian set up the global ultrarunning podcast TalkUltra a couple of years ago and I have listened to every single episode.  Ian has kept me company on many a long training run, and even the odd race!
4. Les Hill - my DRC club mate was running ultras long before they became 'cool'.  His stories of the West Highland Way Race were one of the contributing factors to me deciding that one day I would run that race myself.
5. John Kynaston - John blogs like nobody else.  He cannot be beat for his combination of running and blogging skills.  If you want to know what is involved in training for an ultra then follow his blog.  His attention to detail and love of a spread sheet is second to none.


Sunday, 1 June 2014

Gear for running girls (with babies) - 10 things you need to get running again.

Trying to get back into your running training once you've had a baby (or two) is really tough.  So, I thought I would compile a list of things I think you need to help you on your way.

*Of course you should only start you're running once you are recovered from the birth itself and you have had the all-clear from your GP.

1. An armour-plated bra!  Well, not literally.  But the chances are your chest will be the largest it has ever been so make sure you get measured (again) and that you have enough support.  You will need a lot!

2. Don't throw away your pregnancy running clothes just yet.  If you were able to run through your pregnancy then you probably have a supply of 'larger' tights/shorts and baggy t-shirts (which weren't so baggy when they stretched round your 7 month bump). You will likely still need these until you've managed to lose the pregnancy pounds. ("Will they ever go away?" I hear you cry).  I like anything black and baggy.

3. The supportive tights.  Again, in black.

 When you have a post-pregnancy tummy, especially the second time around, you will need extra support around your stomach until your abdominal muscles start to join together again and you're skin regains a little of its former tightness.  It is such a horrible feeling to have parts of your body wobbling around when you are trying to run.  And it's actually quite sore.  So many tights rely on a stretchy waistband.  I found that these sort of tights end up slipping down under your tummy and don't support it at all.  I have fallen completely in love with my X-Bionic tights.  They support your whole stomach without an uncomfortable waistband and due to their targeted compression they give you the support you need without squashing you like other compression pieces might do.

4. The target outfit.

Channeling my inner Anna Frost

I have long wanted some Salomon S-Lab Exo apparel but I could never justify the price.  When Salomon brought out this new blue version of the skirt and tank earlier this year I thought I should treat myself.  I needed something to help motivate me to get out the door, get running, and lose the baby weight; and what better way than to spend a ridiculous amount of money on some VERY pretty clothes.  Yes, I know, I'm such a girl.  But my body has been through a heck of a lot and I deserve a wee present.  
When I first bought it I couldn't even get the shorts half way up my thighs.  I could have cried.  But, slowly I am losing the weight and they go all the way to the top now, although it is far too snug a fit to even contemplate running in them yet.  And there is no way I will  wear the top until I have something that resembles abs again.

5.  New shoes(?) and a gait analysis.

You body goes through a lot of changes when you're pregnant so it is important to get a gait analysis once you are running again to ensure you are still wearing the correct shoes.  It's probably a good idea to repeat the gait analysis 12 months later as you body may have changed again in the post-natal period.  It's always good to know you are wearing the right shoes and ideally this should help prevent unnecessary injuries.

6. iPod shuffle

When you are struggling to find energy and motivation you can't go wrong with an up-tempo beat to get your legs moving.  Or if you're not a music person a good podcast can also provide great inspiration when you are out running.  My favourites are Talk Ultra, the WHWR podcast and Trail Nation.

7. The target race.

Finding a target race provides great motivation to get out the door.  Don't just pick any old race though.  It helps if it means something as you are more likely to stick to your training plan if it feels worthwhile.  Make sure you have a training plan, and try your best to stick to it.  It can be so easy to let an entire week pass by with no running when you are so busy being a new parent.  At the same time, if you miss a run or have to cut one short, don't feel bad about it.  There are far more important things happening in your life right now.

8. A supportive partner, family and friends.

This is so important if you want to run again after you've had a baby.  Being a new mum is hard, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. It's so full on at times that you can easily forget about yourself and having some me time, but it's important to make sure you get some.  And that's where you need to have supportive people around you.  You need them to make sure you are taking that time to spend some time away from your child/children just doing something for yourself.  You need someone to push you out of the door and to encourage you to take that first step into your run.  You also need them for point number 9. (see below)

9. Childcare.

It's simple, unless you have the most tolerant of babies, who would happily live in a baby jogger, you are going to need some form of childcare whilst you are running.  That's when you need understanding partners, family or friends.  Unless you live close to family or friends who are willing to give up their time on a regular basis then the majority of that care will fall on the shoulders of your partner.  If you are lucky like me, you live with a fellow runner and they will understand all too well how important your running is.  Training for an ultra however means a lot of time on your feet so you need to find your own way to make this work.  And of course, then there is the issue of a mother's (parent's) guilt, but that's a whole different blog post of it's own.


Ah, sleep.  Beautiful sleep.  I can barely remember it.  Sleep is so, so important and yet for many new parents, myself included, it is so so scarce.  People get tired I'm sure of hearing new parents complain about their lack of sleep, but unless you have experienced it you really can't appreciate the huge impact it has on your life and your health.  Sleep deprivation is expected in the early months of parenthood, but for some unlucky parents it can carry on for years.  And it hurts. You are in a constant zombie-like state, devoid of energy, zest or motivation.  You have to get what you can, when you can, but it's not always possible.  It's just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes and you have to deal with the hand you are given.  I haven't had a single full night's sleep since September 2011.  I long for the night when I have two children sleeping through the night - I'll be one hell of a runner I'm sure once I get that ;-)

Good luck to all the new mums and dads out there trying to fit running into their new family lives.

It's all worth it for these smiles 

Saturday, 31 May 2014

The taste test

Recently I was contacted and asked if I would try some products made by Chia Charge and review them on my blog.  Having often struggled with my racing/running nutrition in the past I thought, 'why not?'  Plus, I love food ;-)  So I was naturally rather excited when my sample pack arrived in the post.

Chia Charge sample pack

The Chia Charge products are becoming increasingly popular, especially in the ultra running community so I was keen to give them a try and see what all the fuss was about. My other half has used the Chia Charge flapjacks in races before so I knew they must be pretty good.

At the moment I can't really comment on how they work over the ultra distance as I can't test them at such distances (it's only 3 months since I had my 2nd baby) but I can still see how they work on my 'long' runs which to be honest, feel like ultras! Maybe the exhaustion I feel at the moment with the sleep deprivation and chaos that comes with 2 children under 3 can imitate (a little) what it feels like running an ultra.  Certainly every days feels like a bit of an ultra just now.
Banana flapjack
Flapjack with sea salt

Energy is key for my running nutrition just now as I have very little of it to spare and every run is a slog.  The day I chose to try the sea salt flapjack I had only had 3 hours of sleep during the night and the thought of running anywhere was really not appealing.  But, I need to try and keep getting out there at the times I have available to do so.  The Chia Charge flapjack was tasked with the very difficult feat of getting me through my long run.  
I ate half of it 15 minutes before I set off of my run and the second half at the halfway point of my run.  I have tried to eat natural products before when I have been trying to be more healthy with my running nutrition (ie. fewer jelly babies!) and they are usually not to my taste.  Usually I find the ingredients they use to sweeten products really unpleasant. So it was a very nice surprise to find the flapjack so palatable.  I daresay I would even eat it when I wasn't running as it tasted so good.  You wouldn't get me saying that about a gel! ha ha.  It was so moist that it was really easy to chew, which is key when running as the longer you run the less saliva you have to spare, so moist foods are always a bonus.  And the sea salt flakes? What a touch of genius! It's like salted caramel but for running.  It sounds like it shouldn't work but it really, really does. I absolutely loved the saltiness of the flapjack.  This will be brilliant later in an ultra when you just can't face any more sweet food.  It is my new favourite running food.
Unfortunately I wasn't so keen on the banana flapjack, but that's just a personal thing - I don't like anything banana-flavoured except banana bread or bananas. 

On another run I tested the raspberry hydration sachet. You mix the sachet into 500ml of water.  You may be a little taken aback to see the chia seeds floating in your drink and if you don't like your orange juice 'with bits' then you may struggle to adjust to this drink.  Once you get used to the seeds and the fact that you may need to help your drink out the bottle (with a little squeeze) it's actually a very pleasant taste.  It's not sickly sweet like many sports drinks so it will be an easy drink to stomach later on in a run.  I only needed 250ml of the drink on my long run and I felt quite happy with my hydration levels.  

I don't think I would use the drink in a hydration pack however as the seeds tend to become jelly-like once they've been in the water for a while and I suspect this may cause blockage issues.  This jelly-like quality does have one bonus however - it seems to stop the drink from sloshing around the way other drinks tend to.  The constant sloshing of your drink can get so annoying when you are running long.  I'm really not a fan of having my food or drink causing a lot of background noise when I'm out on my run.

Noise was a bit of a problem to start with when I ran with the packet of trail mix.  The seeds were bouncing around in their packet 'really noisily' in the first mile but I bit a wee hole in the packet, squeezed out the air and squashed the packet back into my bag -  silence. I was unsure about running with seeds as my energy source.  There is a first time for everything and I was willing to give them a try.  It was a bit of a faff trying to get them out of the packet but eating them was much easier than I expected.  They were really creamy to eat and the soy sauce coating increased the savoury flavour of the seeds.  Once I can figure out a better way of dispensing them I think they will make a great addition to my running food list, especially as I am trying to increase my protein fuel base and lower my dependency on just sugar.  

Overall I am really pleased with the Chia Charge products I tried and I will certainly be using them again in my running and racing, and hopefully some ultra-racing if I can ever fit the training in.  Thank you to the kind folks at Chia Charge for sending me such yummy food.

The stats

The ultra running celebrity endorsement