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I signed up to run the UT55 again this year because I wanted to go back and do a better job. I wanted to train harder; to turn up to the start fit and well-prepared, with hindsight from 2015 and a more recent recce of the route under my belt. When I signed up to this race, I was under the impression that my first attempt had somehow gone badly, and that I hadn’t yet earned the rights to call myself an ultra runner, not really. I wanted to  go back to that course and earn those rights.

Not one aspect of my training went properly to plan. I started too early and peaked too soon. I say peaked, but really there was no peaking – the long runs were the worst I’ve done for any long-distance race, and unlike last year, I never felt ready for marathon+ distances; every week I finished my long run with less confidence then when I started. I didn’t manage a single recce of the route despite numerous weekends in the Lakes. Various health issues got in the way of my training, and after a really difficult time on the marathon – planned as my final long run and a pre-ultra confidence booster – I had to reassess my intentions for the race. I considered dropping out and almost committed to it on a couple of occasions, but decided instead to enjoy what I could of the amazing route, knowing that Daniel would be around the course and ready to collect me should it be required.

The day before the race I was resigned to not finishing. I was sad that this wouldn’t be my time, but also had to acknowledge the fact that my health was the priority, and that I could come back another time when I was in better shape to put in the right sort of training [Note: I did train, and put in a lot of miles, but anaemia got in the way and my fitness didn’t seem to improve one bit]. We arrived at Ambleside that evening, and the place was absolutely heaving. I was feeling incredibly negative and the hoards of people and queues of cars only added to my bad mood. After checking in and getting some stuff together I headed out to get my racepack checked – without the mandatory kit, runners would be disqualified from the race. It was here, in the prerequisite stage of the UT55, that I found my first really positive focus. The lady who checked my bag is a familiar face on the Lakeland Trails scene, and we’ve often said hello on previous events. She asked how I was feeling and, rather than giving her my entire life story, I told her I was nervous (which I was, very much so). It turned out that she had been ill for six months, and despite desperately wanting to run the race, she wasn’t able to. She reminded me to be grateful of the fact I was there at all; at the very least, I was healthy enough to give it a good go, and I shouldn’t take that for granted. This was probably the most helpful thing that I could have heard at that moment – I promised her that I’d think of her at the top of Grizedale Hause. I didn’t tell her that I wasn’t sure I’d get that far.

Ultra day came, and the weather kept to its promise. The skies were dark and heavy, and the rain was already pouring when I first dared to peep out of the curtains that morning. MWIS promised us wind, hail, and a strike of lightening or two just to add to the challenge. My dad texted me from over halfway through his 110km run to let me know that it was cold; I packed an extra base layer and decided to set off in my rainproof – combining anaemia with hypothermia didn’t seem like a good idea, no matter how much I hate running in a coat. The start line was quite subdued, but Graham spoke some really helpful words as we gathered and I remembered that this wasn’t about running, it was about moving forwards. I also spotted an incredible dog (maybe a mix of husky and bear?), which the owner kindly allowed me to pet for a while. Anything to calm my nerves. We set off in the rain, and, for the first time in days, I actually felt ok.

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The Struggle to Kirkstone Pass

I had a race plan and I stuck to it. Keep moving. Run whenever possible (even the uphills if I feel able to). Walk fast when I can’t run. The second most important thing: EAT. The first most important thing: talk to people, receive and return positive energy wherever possible. I look back at the marathon and last year’s UT55, and on both occasions I wouldn’t have made it without the help of others. Acknowledging this was key to a good race.

I don’t need to go into too much detail about the various sections (check out last year’s post for more detail about the actual course), but what I do want to say is that I ran a very good race overall. Despite all of the things that got in the way, both in training and on the day itself, my race strategy – mainly my eating and my sharing of positive vibes – was absolutely on point. I really did run as much as I could, and it worked. Running felt so positive, so it helped me keep my spirits up, and converted more positive energy into movement. My body held up incredibly well, and I had hardly any aches and pains until the very last couple of miles, but even then it was minimal. As expected, I walked a substantial amount, but mainly this was walking in the form of ploughing forwards. Later in the race I had to remind myself to walk fast as it didn’t come naturally after hours on my feet, but again, it generated positive vibes. Constant forwards motion was very helpful – I spent no more than a minute or so at the two main check points where Daniel was waiting (enough time to refill bottles and food supplies and grab a quick kiss), and passed all of the others without stopping. My eating was carefully timed thanks to the help of baby food sachets. There’s a useless amount of calories in them, but they’re very easy to take on and keep in place – I had baby banana porridge at mile 3, which meant that my stomach wasn’t empty and acidy at mile 7, so it was much easier to take on solid food. I ate baby food tactically, filling in gaps where I didn’t actually need food, but keeping my stomach lined at all times ready for when I did. It worked wonders.

It was on the enjoyable ascent of Grizedale Hause that, for the first time since March, I allowed myself to believe that I might finish; only 12 miles in – it seemed like a risky thought to be entertaining so early on. The rain was pouring, and as we reached the top the winds were so strong I was almost knocked off my feet. There was also hail, and it hurt. As I passed Grizedale Tarn the winds subsided and the sun came out, there were no other runners in sight and everything was completely still and silent. I was truly lucky to be there, totally exhilarated, fit and able enough to trek/run 15 miles over such difficult terrain. I thought of the lady at the bag-check, as promised, and sent some positive energy her way.

 

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Heading up towards Grizedale Hause in the rain

 

While I’d made it up the hardest ascent with a spring in my step and a smile on my face (very different from last year), it was the descent that I was worried about. Descents are my weakest point by far, quickly transforming me from feeling positive and powerful up the hill to being a nervous wreck who’d happily take a cable car back down. The weather made this one all the more challenging – it was slippy and the noise of the wind was disorienting. I focussed on getting down steadily and promised myself that I’d push forwards quickly to Grasmere once I got to the road section, but all plans were soon scuppered when I found myself on my bum, screaming out in pain, worried (just for a moment) that I might have done some serious damage. I looked up and a group of helpful runners were surrounding me – they looked quite worried too. The lovely lady who I’d been chatting to helped me out and reassured me that I was ok, and so I set off on my way, feeling at best demoralised, at worst injured, and definitely as if I might not be able to carry on beyond Grasmere. Well, spoiler alert: I did carry on, but it hurt a lot. My right bum cheek was (and still is) very badly bruised, and it hurt to move, never mind to run. Daniel checked me over in a car park at Grasmere, by which point a swelling had started to appear – the jury was out on whether I was ok to carry on or not, but my back felt ok and I was determined to give it a go. Just as a disclaimer, I already had my sensible hat on at the start of the race and continued to wear it throughout; I absolutely don’t think it’s ok to run through injury if the running might make the injury worse, but in this case I didn’t think it would be exacerbated by continuing on the race.

So, back to my awesome race strategy, which had been scuppered slightly by the fact that it hurt to run, because running made my bum jiggle around. It did at least make for some good jokes, and a number of people shouted ‘How’s your bum?’ to me as we passed. One lady offered to firm my jiggle up with some rocktape, and a marshall suggested that I use a Buff as a bum-holding device. So here we return to the first most important thing: with or without the injury, as usual it was the other people around me who made this day what it was. I met so many amazing people, many of them tackling their very first ultramarathon, some of them seasoned to the graft, familiar with the challenge of long days out in the wilds. A number of people were also signed up for the Lakeland 50 four weeks later – I wish all of you well! We laughed and joked our way around, sharing low points and positive energy wherever necessary. For me, the hardest part of the day was a long section around mile 26 when I was completely on my own. I couldn’t see anyone ahead or anyone behind, and the yellow flags which marked the route were my only comfort and company. As mile 26 arrived I felt a surge of tiredness so strong that I wanted to lie down in the rocks and sleep. Fearful that my anaemia was hitting and would lead to heart failure and I’d die in the rain and mud on my own in the fells, I tried to sum up some positive energy. I came up with a single positive thought – how depressing. I decided instead to sing, but couldn’t even make it past the first few lines of my favourite Green Day songs. Clearly my thinking mind had shut down in order to conserve some precious energy; I commanded myself to ‘WALK FAST!’, and managed to catch up with two ladies ahead who I stuck with for some time. Positive energy restored; Operation: Complete Ultra was back on!

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As I mentioned, my body held up amazingly. As I ran in to the final checkpoint at mile 31, a number of people commented on how fresh and lively I looked. Bum pain aside, I felt fresh and lively – my body felt great, which made the bum pain a little more frustrating than it might have otherwise been. But no time to dwell on that. By this point the light was starting to fade, which provided simultaneous motivation to press on quickly and the ultimate in Lakeland running awesomeness. After 16 miles of painful movement (and 15 miles of comfortable movement before that), I finally managed to put the discomfort aside and focus on the last 5 miles. And with this, I was about as happy as it is possible to be: running, in my favourite place in the world, the dusk chorus just starting up, the most beautiful pale light all around, running through empty fields and past still tarns, knowing that in a couple of miles I would have completed the UT55 for the second time, against all of my expectations. I didn’t want it to end quite so soon – I desperately wanted to hold on to those last few miles for as long as I could, knowing that I wouldn’t be back running in the Lake District for a long time.

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Only four miles left!

With that, the sharp descent into Ambleside appeared and I crossed that finish line. Unlike so many of the finish lines that I’ve crossed over the past 12 months, this one brought the ultimate in joy and pride. I’ve typed and re-typed and re-typed a number of sentences to follow that one, but perhaps if you are a runner (or indeed any other sort of person) and you’re reading this then you’ll know what I mean without me having to explain. The fact is that I didn’t need to have another go at the UT55 because I didn’t go a good enough job the first time around – I was already an ultrarunner (if that’s really so important anyway) before I crossed the finish line. In fact, I was slower this time, by a good hour; I didn’t necessarily do a better job – those who care only for time on a watch might say I did a worse job the second time around. But it doesn’t feel like that – I genuinely feel that I excelled myself that day, in numerous awesome ways. Getting to the end and acknowledging that I’ve done something really, truly difficult, and that I actually enjoyed myself while doing it is the best outcome I could have hoped for. Other people might run further or faster, but what anyone else does is totally irrelevant: as the saying goes ‘it is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves’.

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And my bum? What was a small swelling at Grasmere ended up looking like I had a banana planted underneath my skin by the end of the race, and certainly horrified the sports massage therapist two days later. I won’t be posting a photo. I got checked over by my doctor on the return home, and aside from a bruised coccyx everything is in working order. Unfortunately, I now want to return to the UT55 when I get back from living in the USA to see if I can manage it without damaging myself on Grizedale Hause – the challenge awaits!

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I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to write about this race. Partly, I didn’t want to write an account that sounded in any way like a bad review, or anything too negative. Partly, the story is kind of personal, and I can’t write about this race without going into Personal Stuff in at least some detail. But I like to write these reports for my own records, and after reading a comment on the Lakeland Trails Facebook page this morning about someone else going through something similar to me, I thought it might be of use to someone if I were a little bit open about this stuff. So here goes.

This race was almost a DNS (did not start) on countless occasions. On almost every long run I’d make it to the one mile mark and consider turning home and dropping out. I never did. My training runs were poor at best, but I did every single one, totting up some of the highest weekly mileage I’ve ever managed. Running became increasingly difficult, and when I went to see my doctor (also a marathon runner) who said I probably wasn’t over-training, I went for some tests to work out what was going on. Two days later I got my B12 anaemia diagnosis, and my first thought was that I’d finally have a real excuse to pull out of this race.

And I was looking for an excuse. In the paradoxical world of being human, I was pushing myself out on runs of up to 20 miles, when even walking around the corner to Sainsbury’s was becoming a problem. The long runs were a nightmareish story of grumbling anxiety peppered with full-on panic – I did one 16-miler without straying more than a mile from my front door, just looping around a nearby 3-mile circuit where I felt ‘safe’. To put it bluntly: panic attacks. Daily, sometime hourly, bursts of near-death experience. As I write this I’m wondering why I didn’t just give myself a break and pull out of the race.

The panic wasn’t enough to stop me, and neither was the anaemia. I found myself in Coniston on 4th June, overwhelmed by the brightness of the sun and the greenness of the trees. There was so many people, children everywhere, bright colours and shrieking from every angle I turned. There was no peace, my mind was raging with the explosion of newness around me. I really really tried to look forward to the space of the marathon the next day, but there was only dread, and under that, utter terror. After a night of almost no sleep, I found myself at the startline at 6:45am, where finally there was peace as runners assembled all with their own nerves and fears about the day (and the heat! it was already hot!) ahead. I cried into Daniel’s chest, totally resigned to feeling too fragile to run a marathon. We had agreed weeks before that I would pull out at the first nudge of anaemia-ish symptoms – I was going to start the race, that was all. A DNF (did not finish) seemed inevitable.

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And so we were off and I was crying as we set out, but soon enough it was ok. I focussed on my steps, upon setting a gentle pace that I could keep up for a while as my thoughts slowed into a comfortable rhythm. It was ok, I was ok. Not great, but ok. Not even two miles in and sweat was dropping from my face, but the heat wasn’t really an issue; if I could deal with my head I could deal with the heat no problem. At mile 8 there was a feed station and I noticed that one lady was dropping out. I could join her. A car will be coming, I could wait and get in that car and we can go back together. I carried on, reluctantly – mile 8 seemed too soon to drop out without an injury.

We got to the beautiful Tarn Hows section and I remembered walking here on the last day of our honeymoon. We talked about all of the things, it was warm and sunny, I was totally content. I tuned in to that day as hard as I could, remembering that feeling of joy and newness, tucked away in the Lake District far from all of the normal life stuff. I chatted to a few other runners here, pushing down the nausea and battling forwards. My Garmin beeped 10 miles and a small group of us cheered – 10 miles already! Around and around Tarn Hows and then up a track past some super marshalls to find James basking in the sun with his camera. I think I felt good by this point – certainly good enough to have a joke about suncream. It was hot, and not even 10am. It was getting really hot.

Coniston

Another feed station, almost 12 miles in and just before Grizedale forest. I had been looking forward to shade: there was no shade. The sun was blazing right above, and everyone kept stopping to walk, drink, moan quietly. I stopped to reapply suncream, afraid of heat stroke, alongside everything else. This was getting hard and I didn’t think I’d be able to finish. But all the time, as always, amazing runners sharing the dregs of cheer that they could muster up. Some familiar faces from previous races, a lot of new people to talk to. The next feed station was at 19 miles – Just another 10km and then I’ll see about pulling out. I looked forward to being shuttled back and sitting in the sun waiting for Daniel to finish his half marathon. Dreams of pulling out pushed me forwards, albeit incredibly slowly.

At mile 16 I saw a marshall. It had been a very long, lonely mile or so and I was at rock bottom. He told me I was halfway. But I’ve done 16 milesOh you know these events, 26 miles is just an estimate, he replied. I had done the run last year, I knew it was 26 miles, not 32. But my spirits dropped from low to rock-bottom. The next 3 miles are a blur in my mind. I was dying the entire time, seemingly encapsulated in panic, far from anyone or anything, with no shade from the sun. I was in one of the most beautiful landscapes I’d ever run in, and I couldn’t think coherently enough to enjoy it, only feeling surges of dread all over the place as I clambered over the rocks. It was here that I encountered The Guy Who Got Me Through, though it wasn’t until later that he really saved the day. We were both in a slump – he said he’d love to be sitting at home drinking a tea. I hadn’t even had a cup of tea that day (no wonder I didn’t feel good), and all I could think of was sugary tea from there on (note: I felt too ill to eat by this point, and was relying on coke from the feed stations to get some sugar in me).

This is a long account. It was a long day.

Every story needs a hero, and there are many many heroes in this one, but my first hero (and probably that of many other runners that day) was the ninja feed station at mile 19. It was here that I was supposed to drop out – I had actually decided that this would be the case – but instead I came across a little table and two friendly people handing out water and Kendal mint cake. They had done the race before, but had decided this year to hand out refreshments to runners instead, setting up outside a friend’s house where they could use a tap all day long (bearing in mind that the official feed stations were usually tap-less, so precious water had to be shipped to us – water really was at a premium that day). Here I got chatting to a small group of people and it turned out that we were all struggling with major issues. I WAS NOT ALONE. I told them that I had decided to drop out, but that their company might be enough to see me on a little further. We ran together for a while, and stuck together on and off for the remainder of the race.

This was the turning point for me. It took 19 miles (and who knows how many hours) of journeying forwards before my mind started to calm, but I got there. By this point the heat was seriously bad, and I was aware that it would be too much for many people, but miracuolously I felt ok. I had ample water and was soaked in suncream. I also have to mention here the lovely family of one runner, to whom I’d mentioned that I was getting some chafing from my backpack. She had given her family a description of me, and as I approached them they were holding out a tub of Vaseline, complete with kind words and well wishes. I wasn’t surprised – this level of kindness and camaraderie is what I’ve come to expect on Lakeland Trails events. If you’re reading, fellow runner, thank you – and well done on such a great run 🙂

The last six miles? Easy peasy compared to the first 20. I had blisters all over my feet, I was starving hungry, I had a grumbling headache and I hadn’t had a wee for more hours than is probably safe, but I felt as if I could do it for the first time since March. I ran along chatting to the same guy who I’d met earlier (now known as The Guy Who Got Me Through since we didn’t bother asking for names), whose company and really good conversation (how is it that you can be that tired and still really enjoy a conversation?) took me from enduring to enjoying my time out on the fells. He was one of a number of really awesome people who I met – always a theme at Lakeland Trails days out!  I actually felt kind of cheerful, and when we reached the final aid station (3 miles to go!) it was a veritable festival of joy. Here I bumped into Mark (sorry I called you Jeff – was a bit delirious by this point!) who was ploughing along like a running machine, and who offered me some great words of encouragement to see me through those last couple of miles. Up a bit, then meet the lakeshore and just a couple of miles of flat from there (oh and a wall to climb over).

I petered out in the last few hundred metres and ran in a sort of ‘creeping’ style over the finish line – not the strong finish that I usually like to go for. But who cares? Somehow I’d made it, battling on past the lowest of all lows to actually gain some real positivity from the run. Ask anyone who has ever run a marathon and they will tell you that the challenge is almost completely mental. Mostly, I agree with this. But somehow this run showed something different. I had no mental strength that day, none whatsoever. The thing that got me through that marathon was the strength of others. So, while I am free to think what I want of my own mental strength, which may or may not be available at any point, at least I know that there is a goldmine of strength to be found in other people. And I really hope that I can give back as much as I take – the runner who got treated to my ‘Last few miles rap’ at mile 24 (sorry) may have something to say about that one…

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*To the tune of So Solid’s 21 Seconds, but replacing the seconds with distance as you get closer to the end…

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Ultra-comedown

We all do it: dream up all the things we’re going to do once the big race is over (in my case, go to the pub, do loads of walking, get out on the bikes, have lots and lots of rest), but once we’ve crossed that finish line all we want to do is get running again as soon as possible. So I knew what to expect, as it happens to me every time. What I didn’t expect was the grief-like emotions that disrupted every part of my day, so much so that I was a ghost for about a week, constantly running those trails in my head. For about five nights following the UT55 I ran in my dreams, waking up intermittently as I tripped over rocks to find my legs cramping or spasming as I lay there confused.

I had a sports massage two days after the race, which was probably the most painful thing I’ve ever endured, and certainly the most pain I’ve paid money to put myself through (and yes, I acknowledge that I also paid for the UT55: this statement still stands). Despite the agony, it worked wonders, but as she kneaded and pummeled the race out of my muscles I felt as if I were leaving it all behind, and grief began to set in as soon as we left Ambleside shortly afterwards. This was a new sort of post-race downer, and was potentially much more damaging than the general Eeyore-like state that I’m used to. I started putting myself down for running so badly, for taking so long, for not being prepared enough: I convinced myself that I was a terrible runner and that I’d achieved nothing. This was bad enough in itself, but it then led to the planning of the next challenge – I needed another opportunity to achieve something in order to make up for my failure at the UT55. So there it was; all of my effort both before and during the UT55 was worthless, my crossing the finish line was worthless (despite being so terrified that I wouldn’t make it at all at only 12 miles into the run); it meant nothing and I had to do something else, and better, if I wanted to be worth anything at all.

I’ve since identified these destructive thought patterns as perfectionism. The idea that, no matter what is achieved, it is never enough, and so the perfectionist carries on pursuing and pursuing and pursuing. More and more and more challenging goals are attempted in pursuit of, eventually, some sense of accomplishment. And I guess that accomplishment never comes. I never thought I could be a perfectionist; my life is too messy, too slap-dash, too…goal-driven and structured with strict discipline? Oh yes, perhaps I could be a perfectionist. Perhaps its a common trait of adventure-seekers, always looking for the next goal, the bigger distances, the higher climbs. And what a shame to waste all that effort and glory by simply by-passing it and planning to achieve something bigger and better next time.

It wasn’t until I found the words to tell the tale of my UT55 experience that I was really able to appreciate what I’d achieved. I was towards the back of the pack, as usual, but I was the 23rd senior lady: I was one of a very small number of young women to finish the race (only 36 of the 122 female finishers were seniors), and I’d learned and experienced more in that day than I ever have before. Reading comments from other runners, many of whom I’d run with at some point on the day, really hammered it home, and many of them left me feeling a bit tearful. But finally, these were happy tears, and finally I felt really really proud of the whole thing. And I still feel proud, three weeks later. I’m no longer desperately trying to find ways to ‘make up for’ my first attempt at ultra running, and realising that my thought processes were driven by perfectionism was helpful in forcing me to mediate those naughty negative ideas that killed the initial glory that I should have experienced when I was still in Ambleside and still hobbling around. That should have been proud hobbling!

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So what have I been up to? Well, not running, mostly. I’ve only just started going out again for anything more than a 2-mile potter, as it took me two weeks to run half a mile without having to stop for a rest. I’ve been teaching myself how to listen more carefully, and how to be gentle; I hope I can move forwards with this new approach and avoid the illnesses that hit me as a result of over-training prior to the ultra (tip: if running suddenly becomes hard, take 3 days off; if it’s still hard, take another 3 days off – one week off does nobody any harm). Daniel and I have been going swimming once a week, which has been wonderful even though I absolutely hate swimming. We’ve also been enjoying lots and lots of walking, and spent a weekend gaining our bronze navigation skills award in the Yorkshire Dales.

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We have also spent plenty of time in the pub, had some proper weekend lie-ins, and brunched and lunched our way through York. Life has a lot to offer, and training for a big race can distort that. I worry that, on the whole, we runners are too hard on ourselves, planning one big race after another after another after another. Always chasing times and goals as if they’re important. They’re not. We celebrate pushing through and often ignore the importance of stopping, pulling out where needed, acknowledging that we’ve done enough. For the average Joe, running marathon or ultra distances doesn’t benefit our health and fitness in any way (I would even say that it might have a pretty negative impact – opposing views welcome!), and when we start to obsess over needing to achieve something new as soon as we cross one finish line, well, maybe it’s time to reassess those thought processes.

This has been a really steep learning curve for me, for many reasons, not just the ones I discuss here. I can’t say that I’m not keen to do another marathon this year, but perhaps the challenge would actually be to not do another marathon. We’ll see. For now, the lie-ins and the pancake brunches are proving way too good to forego.

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When your hometown club puts on a race, it’s pretty difficult to opt out of taking part. Especially when it’s a comeback race to celebrate the club’s 30th anniversary. And when your parents are the main sponsors of the event. Whether or not I fancied running a half marathon in the first weeks of ultra training, circumstances left me with little choice, and so we showed up at my parents’ early on Sunday morning for what was to be a brilliant day out.

Unluckily for the organisers, but perhaps luckily for those who took part, the race coincided with the much heftier ‘Yorkshire’ half marathon, with thousands of runners flocking to Sheffield instead of the West Riding that morning. Corporate events aren’t my favourite, and though I do have a soft spot for the Jane Tomlinson Run For All events, you can find cheaper marathons with much smaller carbon footprints to boot. This was totally not the case at Ackworth: for a rather humble entry fee, runners were treated to a brilliant course, excellent support, FIVE water stations, TWO medals, and a goodie bag like none I have ever seen before (more on that to come).

I acknowledge that I’m a little biased in my review of this race – I do have personal interest in its success, after all – but all of the feedback I’ve heard and seen has been unanimous: it was awesome. We arrived at the start line – a big field on top of a hill next to the prominent local landmark of Ackworth water tower. It was freezing, and a bit windy, and husband and I huddled together for warmth as everyone got organised. There appeared to be a strong contingent of club runners, as well as lots of beefy chaps with lovely thick West Yorkshire accents (again, I know I’m biased) and people just out for a nice morning run. There were a few charity runners, and no one was in fancy dress. We stuck kind of near the middle, as I was in it for a PB, and I need the faster people to set my pace for me in the first few miles. Daniel was taking it steady, as he always does, and I was so tempted to stick by him and just enjoy the ride. I’d been up all night worrying about the race, and my nerves had taken firm residence in my stomach, which had not taken kindly to any attempt at eating breakfast. Still, I was determined to give it a good try since I was on home turf. I knew all the roads, so I kept in mind the bits to look forward to, and had a plan of action for the difficult sections that were familiar in the unfriendly sense.

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

The horn sounded, and we were off! It was strange to be running in a pack of people around local streets that I’d so often run alone, but the roads were closed and the day was still young (yes to 9:30am starts!), and I’d managed to gather a nice comfortable pace from the outset. Things were looking good, and despite the rather meagre chocolate coins that I’d managed to digest successfully, I felt pretty good, too. I managed to break the 5km point with an average pace below 8;30, by which point I felt able to keep it up for at least another four miles to my first gel. The hills came and everyone slowed, but every hill was matched with a downhill, and generally I was easily able to make up what I’d lost. We turned in to the village of Wentbridge and I knew we had a killer climb ahead, which I had done only once before. I’d forgotten exactly how killer it was – easily a match for the bigger hills at Keswick, even – and I began to question whether I should stop running and just walk for a bit. “You’re nearly at the top!” shouted a nearby onlooker, and as I looked up I saw the hill becoming a little more gentle in front of me; ‘nearly’ was a little optimistic, but the climb became easier and I managed to push it to the brow of the hill. No mountains to see over the other side, unfortunately, but there was a great view of the three local power stations, as well as the water tower, which would continue to bob on the horizon for the rest of the race.

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

The next bit was my favourite, as we left the main roads for a quiet single-track road that I’ve regularly followed both while cycling and running. At this point we were coming to seven miles, and I knew that I was in for a pretty solid PB if I kept it up – I hit mile 7 around the hour mark, and stopped briefly at a water station for a gel (which exploded and covered me in ickiness) and a sip of fluid. Stopping didn’t hinder me too much, and I felt good as I continued down the road. But then we turned left, and I knew what was ahead: the road of eternal gales. It lived up to its nickname*, with strong winds blasting us right in the face, making forwards-motion seem almost impossible. I got into a pack of other runners and ran along quietly, listening to their conversation to distract me from the discomfort. The winds picked up, the road climbed upwards and then down a bit and then up again and then a bit down (‘undulating’ always sounds so appealing, doesn’t it?), and I just kept pushing forwards with that water tower in the corner of my eye. We turned back into Wentbridge and it became apparent that what was just a chilly breeze a few miles back had become a proper bit of weather, and whichever way the route turned, the wind was never in our favour. Another hill, and this time I felt as if I were trudging, using everything I had to keep moving forwards; suddenly things weren’t going so well. The empty stomach that I’d set off on came back to haunt me around mile 10, as I bottomed out and felt totally unable to keep going: my pace was slowing but I didn’t care, I just wanted to stop. I had another gel and pushed and pushed, and just as I passed the 11 mile marker I heard a familiar voice behind me, and almost tripped over in shock as I saw my husband rushing past. I may not have cracked it that day, but he certainly had! I felt an overwhelming sense of pride, which was quickly scrubbed out with annoyance that he was so nonchalantly rushing past me. Oh well.

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

Happier running times, around mile 7. Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

The last mile was a killer, but it was almost irrelevant as I was kept entertained by some ‘inspirational’ signs that someone had put up by the side of the road. ‘Humpty Dumpty had wall issues too’ was a particularly pertinent message at that point. I checked my Garmin, almost not daring to look, to see that I could still come in under 2 hours with time to spare so long as I kept moving forwards. With 200m to go I dared to push to a sprint, and made it over the line with relief, rather than joy. I spotted Daniel in the crowds and rewarded him with a sweaty, sticky runner’s kiss – he was the winner of the day, after all. My Dad had pulled out due to a calf problem early on so he was also frustrated, but none of that could distract us from the fact that it had been a resounding success: brilliant marshalling, loads of water stations, great course and a really fun local event. Just a shame about the wind!

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

Photo credit: Andrew Thrippleton

The fun didn’t stop there, though, as we were handed lovely Ackworth AC goodie bags complete with two medals (both engraved), water, chocolate…and a set of false eyelashes. Apparently they make you run faster, so perhaps I will test them out at my next race – maybe they’ll help me get through those last three miles, next time.

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*not actually an official nickname – it’s just known as Wentbridge Lane

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