There’s Goals. Then there are Goals.

Chicago Marathon is coming up fast. Two weeks to go. I’ve found myself in the horrible situation of picking up a niggle, not listening soon enough, and said niggle now meaning that I am cross training my way to the start line. But it’s all good. Because actually I’d rather get to the start line relatively in one piece and just enjoy the experience of another world major. I’m fully intending to ‘Jeff’ my way around. Run, walk or craw. Powered solely by sweets and high fives.

Had you said this would be the outcome, last year or even a few months ago I would’ve cried. You see, Chicago was my goal. My ‘Goal’ for a whole year since saying I wanted to obtain Good For Age time in a year last October (after another London marathon ballot reject) in my mind, all I wanted was to obtain that at Chicago. But a lot changes in a year. And actually, I have learnt a lot about myself and also about how goals do and don’t work for me. My heart has also been stolen this year. No longer am I driven to find fast road marathon times. I’ve found my love for trails. For Ultras. My whole outlook on what I want to run for has changed, and has made me a happier person (mostly) for it.

You see a goal doesn’t work without a spark. When setting a huge goal, it needs to be something you truly want. Something that really does set your soul on fire. I am, essentially a goal driven person. I need that, for motivation, for achievement. Goals and dreams are very much the same for me. I still very much, want to achieve my GFA and complete all world majors even though I seem to have developed a slight aversion for road running. But I’ve taken it off my priority list. For me, it’s now something that will happen eventually, and as part of the process of achieving my new goals.

So what have I learnt about setting goals?

Set a goal that means something to you.

What you want to achieve, may be completely different to the runner next to you. You may want to get that sub whatever time 5k, you may want to complete your first marathon in x time, or you may want to run from John O’Groats to Lands End or run 5k non stop, Whatever it is, it has to be something YOU want to do. Don’t follow the crowd because that’s what everyone else seems to want.

Just because it seems impossible, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it.

The ‘big’ goal. It should be big. Big enough that you have to work for it. The goals that both terrify and excite us are the ones that you won’t be able to stop chasing. Goals are there to challenge you. To make a change for the better.

Set mini goals.

Yeah, I’ve just said set a huge goal.. but break it down into smaller goals on the way to achieving the big daddy, it keeps you motivated. If you’ve set a goal that will take time to achieve (which it should do) you need smaller aims to keep you motivated and enthusiastic along the way. Chip away at it, one step at a time.

Don’t lose heart

If you truly want it, stick at it. Some super humans are able to set a goal and progress in leaps and bounds towards it, making it look effortless in the process. But this isn’t the usual. And if you were to ask that person how they’ve done it so effortlessly you will more than likely find that they have put their all into it, they’ve grafted away still. You’ll have ups and downs. The trick is, when going through the downs, keep in mind that the up will soon make up for it. Expect the rough with the smooth. Not everyone’s progress or journey is the same.

If it isn’t working for you, change it

Last but not least. Don’t be afraid to adapt your goal, or change it completely. If it’s not working for you, or you change your mind completely on your journey, as I have, then drop it, adapt it, make it work for you again. There’s no shame in that. At the time of setting my original big goal, I don’t think I really knew who I was as a runner. Sometimes you need to go on a journey to discover more about yourself, and that might not fit with what you originally started with. You’ve got to be you.

So that’s about as far as my little nuggets of wisdom go. Above all else, find that goal that makes you soul happy. Then knuckle down, buckle up and enjoy the ride on the way. My news goals excite me, and I can’t wait to share them with you. Needless to say, 2019 will mostly be trails, Ultras and mountains…. and THAT fills my belly with fire.

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Summertime Funtime

So, I have been missing in action. Again. The summer has been full of fun, the kind that leaves your heart full, but your blog writing capabilities on the back burner. Hidden somewhere between the need for a granny nap, and standing looking aimlessly at an open fridge wondering whats going to be devoured next.

My last post was Race to The Tower Ultra. I thought that was it for ultras for a while but as it turned out, fate decided it liked me falling over various parts of the countryside, and turning into an emotional wreck. Ultra number two happened two weeks after the first one. Race to The King. I think Ultras are much like childbirth, I can only remember the good bits. That’s for a reason. Otherwise you wouldn’t do it again. It was actually a really good race, I fell three times, leaving some pretty awesome permanent scars to remember it by. I got sick in this one. But nonetheless completed another double marathon ultra two weeks after my first.

July consisted of Thunder Run and the ASICS Frontrunner UK weekend meet up. Thunder Run was amazing! A 24 hour event, entered as a mixed team of 8 Frontrunners. It brought a new meaning to the term team bonding, camping together, running through the night and day. There’s not much to hide during these things. But an amazing weekend spent in great company. Our UK meet up followed in Warrington. Again, another hugely fun weekend spent with teammates, enjoying Parkrun, sports day, presentations, casino night and a few well deserved beverages.

August was mainly ruled by surviving summer holidays (parents will just know) but also some time to get reacquainted with the 10k race. Which I still suck at (5k and 10k races are really not my thing) starting with Westonbirt 10k. A terrible race, that I completely talked myself out of, but I still managed to take over 4 minutes off from the last time I raced it. There was the international ASICS Frontrunner weekend in Amsterdam, which was beyond amazing. I don’t think we stopped all weekend. It also included another 10k race. The kind of race you turn into a fun run (as much as you can with a hangover) Fair to say we partied hard, trained hard. For a great blog about this weekend check out this piece from my fellow UK attendees.

https://www.asics.com/gb/en-gb/frontrunner/articles/what-happens-in-dam

So there it is. Lots of fun times, running time, and family time. Chicago Marathon is creeping up fast now, with just over four weeks to go, and training for it has been interesting. There hasn’t been any structure as such. I’ve not stuck to a plan. I’ve just tried to incorporate key sessions and easy runs around having fun. I don’t regret that decision for this marathon. It’s kept things fresh, and the lack of pressure works wonders for the soul.

Summer Summary done, normal service can now resume.

Popping My Ultra Cherry

So it’s happened. I am an ultramarathoner! I completed Race To The Tower. And what an epic, life affirming journey it was. So epic, I needed to calm myself down a little writing this piece for fear of turning into George R R Martin and creating a biblical sized novel.

I am still incredibly sore, 2 days post Ultra, beyond tired but I’m bursting with pride. I’m incredibly happy, in the best way.

I had to rely on a lift to get to the start line, in Stroud. My mother kindly offered. She drives like a mole, and was more worried about coffee stops than getting there. She took a wrong turn and sent us 15 minutes down the motorway in the wrong direction. Typical. She also doesn’t get running. Although she did kindly say she would be proud if I did three miles. Thanks mum. Still, we managed to arrive at the start with 25 minutes to spare before the off. Quick pee stop, start line selfies with some of the wonderful Instagram crew I did manage to spot and it was get to the start line for the warm up. I didn’t warm up. They make me cringe. Instead I babbled to two familiar faces, who I was lucky enough to bump into. This calmed the pre race nerves…. a little. I still felt like my stomach was in my mouth.

8am- let’s go! And it’s off. The first few miles flew by, finding a rhythm, trying to slow my breathing down. Nerves soon vanished. I’ll be honest I think they vanished at the very first gate (number one of 160) hearing everyone gigging and in high spirits waiting to go through.

The course was beautiful. Really stunning. But I soon realised that although I train on hills frequently, living where I do (I struggle to find a flat route) it hadn’t been enough. These hills along the Cotswold way were monsters. As I was trying my best to power walk up them, I made a mental note… you need to practice hiking more.

Pit stops 1, 2 and 3 flew by. I didn’t hang around long. Topped up the water bottles, grabbed some fruit (the watermelon was absolutely amazing) and snacky bits. My plan was to grab stuff I could eat on the go. Just walk for a while, whilst chomping on something to try not to lose any time. I do actually think I spent a fair few miles with salt and vinegar crisps getting shoved in my mouth, or annoying everyone around me with the jostle of crisps rattling in a bag clasped in my hand whilst I ran. Those and freddo frogs. Freddo frogs are a little less intrusive on eardrums!

After pit stop 3 it went downhill a little. Almost straight away, there was a ridiculously steep incline through some woods, around mile 18. It was single track and no where to escape to let anyone pass, so it was keep up or pass out! That hurt. I then fell, just being clumsy. I was too busy looking at the views. Bang. Down like a sack of spuds. I managed to take a chunk out of my hand and give myself a pretty impressive graze on my leg! Still, I thought, keep moving forward. My tummy started playing up a couple of miles later. Poo gate. I was begging for a secluded spot. None to be found. It was buttocks firmly clenched, and hang on for dear life until pitstop 4, halfway. I’m being honest…. toilet troubles and all. To add to matters, the final mile climb into pitstop 4 I had a huge hypo (low blood sugar) where I dropped down to 2.1. Trying to still move forward, whilst trying to ram jelly babies, dextrose and freddos down my chops, whilst trying not to shit my pants. Is this what Ultra running is all about?

Halfway, a marathon done. Once I had found solace in a portaloo, I didn’t stop for any of the wonderful ‘real food’ on offer. Instead I made myself a peanut butter and chocolate spread sandwich to eat on the go, and quickly drained a cup of flat coke. Which was amazing!

The poo and junk food worked wonders, soon I was flying along again, feeling really good. Positive and full of energy. The next part seemed to fly by again, the hills continued, I slowed, I found bits of energy. It’s so easy to be distracted by beautiful scenery. It helped. Pit stop 5 through a farm was great, more bread and flat Coke! Keep on moving.

Pit stop 6 (38.4 Miles in) and I realised I was starting to struggle. Emotionally more than anything. I felt tired and was hurting. I honestly had a good 5 minutes where I don’t know what happened but it felt like I could keep on crying forever. I was just overcome with emotion. I thought about my little boy. I thought about how 12 years ago to the day I had last held him. I thought about my babies who would be there for me at the finish. Emotional bloody rollercoaster. I guess that’s what ultras do. They bring it out, there’s no where to hide when it’s just you and your thoughts, your struggles. Thankfully I was inundated by virtual support from Instagram. I don’t think I could of done it without that. Just message upon message from people who had my back, urging me on, supporting me. Messages from my husband, willing me on. Thank god for 4g! I managed to get a grip. Slightly. I started admiring random trees and cows. There were some pretty impressive trees and cows.

44 miles in, the wheels came off completely. Blisters. All around the insides of my heels. I carried on for a couple of miles before deciding to stop, pop and cover. It didn’t offer any relief. I was down to a shuffle, at best. I didn’t feel too bad, but my god those blisters. Because I was down to a shuffle everything just started ceasing up. Pit stop 7 I could’ve quit. Only 5 miles to go. Only.

They were the longest miles I’ve ever known. It got dark, I overheard someone say that the last 10 gates were all up the horrific hill to the finish. The last mile. Running through the beautiful village of Broadway before this, did lift my spirits immensely! A beautiful evening, and beautiful pubs and houses. People cheering and clapping as we went past shouting encouragement. There was a huge part of me that just wanted to stop. Go and sit outside in a beautiful place and have cold cider. It sounded like heaven in my head.

I was met near the top of the evil hill that I was practically crawling up, by my eldest two children, and my husband. They came down with little lights shining. They looked like angels to me. Just gone 11pm, I finished by running over the finish line holding hands with them, my daughter then placing my medal around my neck. The flood of emotion that came out then was on another level. I’m pretty sure I could’ve filled both my soft flasks with tears.

I got really cold almost immediately and couldn’t stop shaking whilst my husband took my trainers off, and helped me into warm clothes. I felt really ropey. And yes, I was that person. I begged him to take me straight to McDonalds. Whilst sat waiting in drive through, any fluid left in me came out into a Tesco carrier bag. I’ve never professed to be classy!

I learnt a great deal from my first ultra. I do think that until you’ve actually done one, you just don’t know. It’s the unknown. You don’t know how your body will react, you don’t know if you’ve done the right training, if you’ve got everything dialled in. I certainly didn’t. I ballsed up my hydration from the start. I had one flask of water, one with electrolytes. Once I had finished these, I for some reason decided to stick to water only. This came at a price. The most important thing I think you can do is get that hydration and nutrition spot on in your training, and stick to it. I had two hypos in all, and would of been much more stable if I had paid attention to what I was consuming.

Kit wise, I was really comfortable. Blisters not so much. Again I should of dealt with them much earlier. I also forgot compeed. I took far too much. For an event such as one the Threshold series, where everything is catered for at extremely regular intervals, the route extremely well marked out, you don’t need to pack a picnic for the start as I did, or for the eventuality that you will be lost in the wilderness for days on end. I never touched my spare socks/shorts. I guess I would’ve if I hadn’t come across the portaloo

7800ft of elevation, 160 gates and styles, and relentless sunshine. Blisters, hypos, poo gate, and all that was in between. I just wanted to finish it. 10 weeks of training, the majority of which were super cautious to avoid the injury returning and I managed it. I made a lot of rookie mistake, but that’s the way to learn. My first ultra has stolen my heart. I’ve found something that I truly love to do. And I cannot wait to continue learning, and do it all over again!

Ultramarathon Playlist

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain” Bob Marley.

Music often takes us away, distracts us, ignites passion and evoke memories. Sometimes even a pain in the backside, when you get an “ear worm” that gets stuck in your head all day.

With the ultra coming up this week, taper tantrum/wobbles are in full swing. Whilst running, I tend to listen to a variety of music (for long runs and easy runs usually it’s a good audiobook or podcast which I shall share on another post) My tastes can vary anywhere between Dolly Parton and S Club 7 to full on make your ears bleed Slipknot, and all that is in between. I have my favourites artists and bands, but I like variety. After all, isn’t that the spice of life. So I started thinking about the lonely stretches that may arise, the times during this Ultra where I may need a bit of distraction, some motivating music maybe? I’m not normally one for listening to music during races, I enjoy the atmosphere and ear wigging on random conversations people have. But a back up plan whilst stepping into the unknown this weekend is never a bad thing. So, naturally I turned to fellow runners on Instagram, and asked for their favourite running tracks. You did not disappoint!

You can find the list here

https://open.spotify.com/user/kelruck/playlist/7CGC29BMlLFIG39bnFeNaa?si=u8t5PebCTq-344JT46a2rQ

Some great tracks to add to any running playlist. I’m hoping that Bob is right, and this will help me along. What do you think? Do let me know if there are any that are missing and should be on there.

Crash Course Ultra Training

The last few weeks have been a flurry of all the sunshine, easy runs, cranking out a marathon as part of standard training (who even knew) and embracing hills as much as I embrace my coffee.

April saw the return from injury. Finally. Which meant keeping pretty much every run to an easy pace. One which was a lot slower than pre injury. I found it pretty tough, knowing that my first Ultra would soon be creeping up. It required patience and perseverance just getting my legs back in to running. Everything seemed off, from breathing to just feeling awkward. Pretty much, like starting all over again. Seeing what I should be doing to prepare for a double marathon and what I was actually doing was a little nerve wracking. But I stuck with it, complimenting those easy runs with lots of strength training and tlc in the stretching and rolling department.

Then I signed up to a local trail marathon. Please note, that I am telling you what I did do, which is most likely, totally not advisable.

13th May I completed the trail marathon in 5:18 hours. The longest run I had plodded before this was 6 miles (post injury) it was a huge risk, I could of come away with injury again. My aim was to just spend time on my feet, with a mixture of walk/running. Trying to suss out a tactic for how I would approach the ultra. It worked. I walked the huge hills (probably more crawled the last) and just kept moving forward. It was an incredibly difficult day for it, high temperatures and no escape from the blazing sun. It was also a 4 lap course, with abandoned aid stations after the first lap, and not another soul to be seen. Even when I finally crossed the finish line there was nothing. The whole event (which had a nice number enter the 10k option – the first lap) had been taken down. No finish line, nothing. One person, sat on a chair by a timing mat, waiting for my return. I cannot tell you how soul destroying that was. Aside from my views of how shocking the whole event was, it served its purpose and probably helped a huge deal with mental preparation. Yes humming the wheels on the bus did help.

I actually felt amazing on the days that followed and happily eased back into more easy miles. I don’t know if it was the easy pace, or the numerous Epsom salt baths and my new found love of Oofos recovery shoes but it was all good.

The second long run of 24 miles followed that week. Again, super easy. I walked, I ran, and I stopped at a shop to have a lolly in the stupidly hot weather. I enjoyed this much more than the marathon. But running along the River Wye in beautiful surroundings on such a beautiful day certainly contributed to it. I have a new love for Ultra training long runs as opposed to marathon training. No paces to hit, no slogging out a long run. Just time on feet, taking it all in. No pressure.

I did feel the results of these two weeks with my energy levels taking a huge dent. I ran an appalling trail race a few days after this run. Just couldn’t get going, completely out of puff. The hills most definitely ruined me that day. The recovery beer helped take the edge off any bad feelings about that though.

The last long run before taper, of 14 miles again was a completely different story. Most enjoyable until mile 10, energy levels had returned. The last 4 miles of all the uphill Home, and a huge thunder storm made me drop any easy pace and pelt it. A lot more strenuous than it should of been!

Now it’s less than two weeks to go until Race To The Tower, and that has been the extent of my training. 3 weeks of 30-39 miles, far lower than I would of wanted. But time on feet spent, different weather conditions and making sure that almost every one has included huge hills. I don’t know how it’ll all fare come 9th June. But I know I’ve done as much as I can without being completely ridiculous, I’ve come through without injury, I’m feeing stronger and I’ve recovered well.

I also know that time isn’t an issue for me. I’m not racing it, I’m not wanting to be a super speedy speed machine. The reason I entered Race to The Tower, is because it’s the 12th anniversary of my son passing away. The last day I held him. I struggle every year around this time. So to spend time doing the thing I love, the thing that helps me mentally, remembering him whilst challenging myself in beautiful surroundings…. for me, that is what my first ultra is all about.

All That Is Good

The last week has been amazing in so many ways. I have been more than quiet on the blog front, and I’ll be honest, continuous injury lead me to a horrible place. One where I was fighting daily to make something work, that wasn’t going to work. I was so desperate to make the marathon start line that I kept pushing, putting pressure on myself and my body that wasn’t needed and only had a detrimental effect. Which leads me to the start of the week. The moment of clarity.

I finally decided (a week out) that I would withdraw from the marathon. The decision came after what should of been a wonderful Easter trail run on the Saturday with fellow Asics Frontrunners, which ended up with me hobbling back after a mile. If I couldn’t run a mile, even going super easy for 26.2 would have been disastrous. I cannot even begin to describe the instant relief. The weight that I felt lifted from my shoulders. I had made myself so unhappy for weeks on end, that when the relief came from choosing to withdraw I realised the decision should have been made much sooner. It is an incredibly hard decision to make, when you’ve trained for, and been geared for that single event. Eventually (a little late) I realised that the first marathon was not my goal this year. A summer of doing my first ultras and going for GFA in Chicago Marathon IS my goal. It came down to looking at the bigger picture. I’ll be honest. Just to run carefree and pain free is something I had taken for granted, and something I desperately need back in my life for mental and physical happiness. There are plenty more marathons in the sea! On a little side note I did however, learn a whole array of useful cross training and strengthening work, which I shall detail at a later date.

It was also my birthday. A wonderful day spent with my family, which also saw the return of proper pain free 2.5 miles. Albeit incredibly cautious and unfit miles, but they felt wonderful. No pressure. Just go out and plod. Another 4 miles on Friday and a wonderful bit of fun Parkrun tourism with friends (the beautiful Ashton Court) chatting, giggling and messing about in puddles and the miles are creeping in.

Then Manchester Marathon. Cheering duties. A wonderful night and day spent with fantastic company, and being totally inspired by the wonderful runners. If you ever need a huge dose of positivity, to see determination and grit working across all types of runners, please do go support a marathon. Any race. If you can’t run it, support it. You never know just how much you may help someone, how you may just distract or encourage with 25 miles of pain behind them, the final agonising stretch so close, yet so far. I had wonderful hugs with many of the Instagram runners. All wonderfully inspiring, and such a pleasure to see! There were two who stuck with me for different reasons, and reiterated all that is good about running. The two Dans. I managed to catch Danny O’Reilly twice on the course (@the_running_dan https://www.instagram.com/the_running_dan) who was officially pacing a group of 3:30 runners. Brimming with positive energy, and making it look effortless, he stormed by with his pack all smiles. The type of running that made me want to hop in and join. If a pacer can make you believe you can stick with him, he’s the man! The second, Dan Cogswell (@the_marathon_dan https://www.instagram.com/the_marathon_dan) who’s face lit up when he spotted us, with a mile left to go. It was one of those hugs where you knew he was battling, he was giving it everything, he was hurting, but he was smiling….and that’s when it really hit home how much support is valued. Such a special moment, and actually really emotional.

It’s the start of a brand new week, and another new chapter for me. The start of working with the wonderful Team Project Run https://www.teamprojectrun.com who have already been extremely welcoming and positive. I’ve never used a coach before. After the fiasco of the start of this year, and with such a huge amount still left for the year, I’m trusting my training to the watchful eye of a coach. Hopefully safely tucked underneath a guiding wing, good things will start to happen in preparation for Race to The Tower and Race to The Stones, and even more so for Chicago marathon 😊.

So there it is, a brief (ish) round up. Normal service will now resume.

There’s Always Room To Dream

The last week has been an unbelievable whirlwind. The kind of week where when I think about it, I do a little head shake in disbelief.

Take it back to January. ASICS opened their 2018 frontrunner applications to find new members to join their existing inspirational frontrunners. Of course, I applied. How could I not. I remember submitting my application, shaking. I really wanted this. I really wanted to be part of such a positive, encouraging network of people. I wanted to be inspiring, like the frontrunners I had followed and watched as their journeys progressed. Immediately I tried to forget about it. As the days and weeks passed I could see so many wonderful people from all backgrounds had applied. So many others wanted the opportunity just as much as I did.

Imagine my complete shock when I received an email to say I had been successful. Out of 4600 applications, I had been chosen as one of the 26 new members. I screamed, I read the email over and over. My eldest daughter squealed in delight as I read it to her. She squeezed me with an almighty bear hug around the waist, her face completely lit up and told me she was so proud of me. My husband was proud of me. The youngest two, just wanted a treat, trying to take advantage of the excitement!

I’ve never thought of myself as inspirational. I’ve never really thought of myself as anything other than just getting on with it, sharing as I go. Maybe encouraging. I will always try and encourage anyone to just try. Try it once. Try it twice… just to make sure. I’m ridiculously positive. I do know that. I truly believe that there is a positive in everything if you look for it. I’ve been through some almighty soul crushing moments in my life. I’ve lost a child, something no mother should ever experience. I have a serious condition which has the potential to be life threatening on a daily basis, and will no doubt lead to life changing complications in my old age. I’ve made mistakes left, right and centre…. but generally I learn from them. Even whilst doing the three peaks challenge solo and breaking my wrist on the first mountain, I still remained positive, and managed to still complete the challenge in 22 hours before heading to A&E. I wouldn’t advise climbing Snowdon in the dark solo with a broken wrist however.

I’m relatively new to running. Two years. I didn’t really start taking it more seriously until last year even, when I stared training for London Marathon! But I’ve been hooked since. I love everything about it, I love learning about it, expanding my knowledge, learning from others, sharing with others. And whilst I was sat in a conference room in Birmingham this weekend, meeting fellow ASICS frontrunner team members for the first time, I realised this was just what this team meant. People from all walks of life here to share, encourage and promote running. Not just for frontrunners, but for anyone. Everyone. It was an exhilarating feeling being surrounded by so many motivational, inspirational people. Not one of us were the same. We all have something different to offer. There may be similarities, some of us like marathons, some ultras. Some triathlons, some a bit of everything. New runners, experienced. Old and young. But we are all individual. A diverse group bringing our individuality together, to get moving. To encourage. To support.

I left Birmingham, happy. Invigorated. I left feeling part of something special. I am beyond excited to see where my journey goes this year. And yes, I’m still going for that GFA. That’s my goal, because I don’t like being told I can’t achieve something. No one should ever listen to that.

“Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits”