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Archive for March, 2015

A few months back now, no doubt in a whirlwind of enthusiasm for all things running (and a particularly potent moment of self-belief), I signed up for my first ultra distance. I’ve no idea what made me want to do such a thing – or indeed whether I genuinely ever did really want to do it – but the fact is that, on 27th June, all being well I’ll be attempting my first ultra marathon: the UT55 – a mountainous 55km (1,763m ascent), starting and finishing at Ambleside in the Lake District, and hosted by Ultimate Trails, the sister company of the much-loved Lakeland Trails.

Why does anyone sign up to do an ultra? I can’t come up with any real reason for attempting this challenge other than that I just want to know if I can do it. Perhaps I can’t, but then I’d find my limit and that would probably be ok. I’m just kind of excited by the fact that I haven’t found my limit yet; how far can I go, and how hard can I push? And what if I can run 55km? I have to confess that I’m a bit disappointed that I won’t be hitting the magical 50 mile distance, but I’m pretty certain that I’ll be grateful for a ‘smaller’ ultra distance as I’m climbing up towards Hellvelyn in only the first 25km of the race*! A lot of my decision to go beyond the marathon was determined by the great experiences that I’ve had with Lakeland Trails, and the confidence that they’ll make it as great a day out as it could possibly be. I’ll have run with many of my fellow runners on numerous occasions – there were plenty of people talking about the UT55 at Cartmel – and I’m confident that I’ll ‘fit in’ at the start line (as oppose to thinking “oh my gosh everyone else is a pro!”). My crazy Dad will be running the 110km event on the same day – talk about stealing my thunder – so it will also be fun to share the experience with him, and perhaps even see him over the finish line.

elevation

I’ll have 12 hours to complete the race, which feels like it should be plenty of time. However, while the first checkpoint cut-offs are generous enough, it will get increasingly difficult to make the checkpoint before the cut-off times, as tiredness increases and the cut-offs become tighter over the course of the race. Note to self: don’t spend too much time at the feed stations tucking in to chips/porridge/sarnies. Above that, though, my main concern is the weather. It will be mid-summer, and most of the running will be done during the potential heat of the day (the race starts at 11am); give me rain, wind and hail and I’ll happily keep on running, but heat is my absolute enemy, especially when running with a backpack. Hopefully we’ll have at least one or two hot days between now and June so I can practice not dehydrating.

So, a few weeks behind schedule, my training has begun! Only two weeks in and it’s already getting tough, with an average of 38 miles per week in March, upping to 45 over April. I’ve been hindered slightly by a dodgy ankle, which is being forced to rest over the next few days, but all in all I’ve been having a good time going beyond the sort of running that I’ve done in the past. In marathon training I’d focus on the long slow run (LSR), with one medium-distance and some targeted speed/conditioning sessions in between. But for the ultra distance I’m adding an extra medium/longer-distance run to the schedule, to take place the day after the LSR. This means that the focus is on two days of running – not only do I have to pace myself on the LSR, but I also have to make sure that I have enough in the tank to get going again the next day. Clue: this involves a LOT of food.

And, as I’ll be hearing a lot over the next few months, so far, so good. The first double run was a bit of a shock – mainly because I couldn’t believe that running 12 miles would ever feel like a struggle again. Then, on the first few hundred metres of Cartmel my body ached all over with tiredness – even my shoulders were aching. This week was much better, though. I managed a very slow 16 miles on Friday – and again, it was a shock to struggle quite as much as I did, and a bit demoralising at first – but I felt great the next day and had a lot of fun on a muddy 8 miler in the rain.

So I guess this is happening. And as I’ve found in the past, enjoying the training is absolutely essential to an enjoyable race. My next conundrum is deciding whether or not to do a marathon before the ultra – tips on this matter greatly appreciated!

*Note: the route doesn’t actually go up Hellvelyn – not sure I’d be up for that!

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If I had to pick my all-time favourite race…well, I’d really struggle, though I could perhaps manage a top 5. But if I had to pick my favourite ever race series then I wouldn’t even have to think about it – the Lakeland Trails events would win hands down, every time. The amazing courses, cheerful and enthusiastic runners and staff, free photos, brilliant tshirts…I could go on…well, it’s a trail runner’s perfect day out. If it weren’t for the fact that my annual expenditure on race entries is getting a little out of hand, as well as the fact that all of the Lakeland Trails events are a good 2-2.5 hours’ drive away, then I’d take part in every single one, no second thoughts necessary. I’ve had some of the most enjoyable running of my life on the Lakeland Trails courses, and would recommend them to anyone: first-timers and old-hands alike.

I ran Cartmel for the first time in 2013, when my Dad bought entries for me and my brother as Christmas presents. It wasn’t on last year, so I was particularly keen to sign up for this year’s race.

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Back in 2013

 

The course is notorious for its mud, and certainly lived up to expectations in 2013, but recent dry weather meant that things were a little easier underfoot for this year’s race. This was actually a good thing, as I wasn’t in optimum running condition on the day. I’d done a 12-miler the day before – this was the first weekend of back-to-back running for my ultra training (more on that in a future post) – and as well as having heavy, tired legs, my ankle was aching rather unpleasantly and my calf was exceptionally tight. I’d also been suffering with some strange queasiness all week, so I was nervous that this would show its green face around the course and potentially cut my running short. In all I was pretty nervous despite the lovely relaxed atmosphere at Cartmel racecourse, which was simply buzzing with delight under a spectacularly blue sky.

As with many recent races, my husband was joining me on this one. He’s starting to get pretty good at off-road running, and rather than me racing ahead as I’m used to when we run together, I’m finding myself struggling to catch up when we leave the road for the trails, especially on tricky downhill sections, which are my weakest spot. Still, I was glad to have him along, and I knew he’d stick with me as he was worried about my ankle!

We made it to the start line with a good five minutes spare to find a decent spot in the huddle, and it was warm enough to not have to worry about getting too chilly while waiting. A jazz band was playing from the racecourse stands, and the atmosphere was as good as ever. We all counted down together and then we were off – plodding over the bumpy racecourse grass which made it impossible to find a rhythm. The grass gave way to gravelly trails, and almost right away we were in woodland which is my all-time favourite setting for running (oooh the smell of those pines!), and it didn’t take long before the seriousness and nerves of the start line melted away – everyone was in a good mood and it seemed that we were all looking forward to the 18km of trails ahead. It wasn’t long before the first hill, which was one of those cruel, winding ascents which is as long as it is steep: all I could hear was the panting of my fellow runners as I pushed it step-by-step upwards. I’d promised myself that I’d take it easy and walk up any hills that I wanted to, but this hill was particularly inviting and I couldn’t allow myself to stop until I got to the top. It was worth the stop, too, since we were presented with the most incredible views over Morecambe Bay, which was silver and golden in the sunshine. I always say how important it is to stop and enjoy the views when out running – that was particularly relevant here, and some runners were even taking photos!

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The hills and the views continued. It was just spectacular, but the rewards had to be earned with some really cruel climbs which apparently I’d forgotten about in the two years since last running this route. The nice thing about Cartmel is that it isn’t too technical, and so it was possible to enjoy the scenery with the confidence of soft grass or steady pathways underfoot. My ankle seemed to improve as the miles continued, and by the time my Garmin beeped 8 miles I realised that I’d stopped noticing it altogether. That being said, tiredness had taken over by this point, and the endless uphill running presented too much of a challenge – I found myself walking quite a few of the steeper climbs, which I always find demoralising!

I knew we were nearly home when we arrived at the river crossing – a welcome sight as it meant I could wash my shoes and refresh my tired feet for the last mile of the race! What I hadn’t kept in memory was the long, step ascent through woodland which took everything I had left even to walk most of it, with the teasing promise of the finish as the MC’s cheers from the finish line sounded out through the trees. But the climb gave way to a lovely downhill section which winded and bumped its way through the trees and onto the racecourse for the finish line. We crossed the line together, suddenly full of energy thanks to the brilliant crowds and glorious sunshine, as well as the promise of some good local grub!

We then spent a happy couple of hours eating in the sunshine (three cheers for Lancaster Soup Dragon and their yummy chick pea tagine – it was great to have a dedicated vegan/vegetarian stall at this event!), accompanied by the brilliant Pete Lashley on guitar. And if the day hadn’t already been brilliant enough, I was the lucky winner of a voucher with entry to all four autumn series events in the spot prize draw – looks like I’ll be spending a lot of time in the Lakes this year after all!

Mud in 2013!

Mud in 2013!

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Tap Tap…??

Hello again world!

It’s been a while. A long while. A three-year-long while. I didn’t stop running – quite the contrary – but life got a little bit in the way and something had to give. And now I’m back, ready to talk about all things running again; after all, I need something to keep me busy while I’m resting up on the sofa…

So what’s new?

Quite a lot, actually.

Since I last checked in here I’ve managed to squish a few exciting things into my schedule.

I got married.

Catherine & Daniel - 153

Then we adopted this little fella.

This is Edward, our furry three-legged friend.

This is Edward, our furry three-legged friend.

And I’ve made it through two and a half years of my PhD.

I got a hair cut, too.

I got a hair cut, too.

Oh, and there’s been some running: I now have five marathons under my belt and will be taking on my first ultra in June. Exciting stuff!

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So, without further ado, I’m hoping to spend a bit more time here writing about running. I already spend a lot of my life writing about sciencey stuff for my PhD, and so the purpose of this blog is to get writing for fun again. Let’s see how it goes!

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