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Posts Tagged ‘UT55’

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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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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I have no idea how to even begin to describe my UT55 experience. It was both the most brutal and the most brilliant thing I’ve done, and I’ve spent the past five days in a sort of trance, unable to think of anything else. I feel a little lost now it’s over; I find myself running those trails constantly, in my thoughts and in my dreams – I’m reluctant to return to the normal world, not just yet.

The UT55 was so different from what I expected. It wasn’t ‘just’ a marathon with 10 miles on the end. It wasn’t ‘only’ 55km. I’d talked myself down constantly in the run-up to the event, unfairly comparing it as a lesser challenge than the 110km route that many other runners (including my Dad) would be taking on at the same time. And fair enough, it was half the distance and half the ascent, but there was no ‘only’ about any of it, and I paid for my ignorance over every single one of those 55km 58.1km. Because this event wasn’t about the distance; the 55km part was just a small detail in relation to the climbs, the downhills, the terrain, the pain, the heat, the nausea, the fear, the sweat… Three weeks prior I ran the Lakeland Trails marathon at ‘ultra pace’ in six hours; with ‘only’ 10 extra miles to run I’d estimated what I thought was an overly conservative finishing time of 9 hours. Oh how wrong I was.

The days prior to the event had been agonising. I’d missed out on a lot of training thanks to general over-tiredness and a too-busy schedule, and on the Thursday my doctor diagnosed an annoying sore throat as pharyngitis and advised me to consider not running on Saturday. From that point I had almost exactly 48 hours until the start, most of which I spent obsessing over my swollen glands, gargling saltwater and consuming a large amount of very expensive Manuka honey (I even bought the 10+ variety – anything to get me to that start line!). My missing appetite wasn’t helping, and I became immersed in a self-obsessed gloom that would not budge. But, after an unusually long pre-race sleep and a surprisingly hearty breakfast (neither sleep nor eating come easily to me before races), by 10:30am on Saturday morning I felt calm and eager to start the race. The odds seemed to be stacked against me, but by this point the only thing I could do was start running and see how far I could get before I needed to stop.

The start of the race was unconventional and inspiring. Graham (Lakeland Trails Race Director) announced that Kim Collison, extremely smiley TeamGB ultra runner, was about to finish the 110km race, and so our race started with the finish of another: cheering in an awesome runner and his huge grin as he claimed the course record after under 11 hours on the trails (wow). Batala Lancaster set the pace with their amazing drumming, and with that familiar rising sensation in my chest we were off – the UT55 had begun!

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The race details described the first leg as ‘a struggle to Kirkstone Pass’, and this was by no means an exaggeration. Not even half a mile in and we had all slowed to a walk – this felt totally counter-intuitive so early on in a race, but I followed the lead of those around me and pushed my legs up the massive climbs. Roads gave way to trails, by which point I’d already reached the realisation that this was nothing like marathon running. The atmosphere was relaxed and extremely friendly – we were all in it together, rather than trying to push ourselves past one another in some egotistical chase of a number-driven goal. The sun was out, everyone was smiling and chatting – I felt very content, though very aware of my swollen glands and sore throat.

I kept telling myself that every uphill step earned me a downhill step for later, but I soon ate my words after we passed the first checkpoint at the top of Kirkstone Pass. Leg two was described as ‘downhill to Brotherswater’, but even this first descent was quite technical and tough on the thighs, and was nothing compared to what was in store a few miles down the trail. It wasn’t too far downhill before we finally reached some lovely flat terrain – the first of the course so far – and I got chatting to those around me, soaking in the sunshine and really enjoying myself. Before I knew it 9 miles had passed – the point at which I usually have my first snack, but I was lost in conversation and didn’t bother to stop and eat anything. Two miles later we hit the second checkpoint at Glenridding, which was roaring with support and boasted a little tent filled with snacks, water and energy drink. I stopped here for my first jacket potato (I mainly supplied my own fuel on this race as I wasn’t keen to repeat the ‘wheaty sandwich’ incident from a training run – I’ve steered clear of wheat ever since), took on plenty of water and some Coke (Lakeland Trails events are the only time I ever drink Coke, but it must be the best running fuel there is), and then hurried off out of Glenridding. I knew the biggest climb was coming up, and I didn’t want to lose my momentum by stopping for too long at the checkpoint.

At this point the whole thing went simultaneously uphill and downhill, and both were equally massive and uncomfortable. It was only mile 12; I should have been filled to the brim with energy and enthusiasm, but not long after the checkpoint I started to feel really strange. Perhaps it was the heat – I was climbing and climbing and sweat was running off me on the first proper sunny day of the year – or perhaps it was the fact that I’d failed to get any fuel in me until mile 11, but I started to feel incredibly sick, tired and dizzy. My throat hurt, I started to panic, I felt more sick, more dizzy. Suddenly I was really cold and shivery even though the sun was blazing down. I didn’t want to run, and I didn’t know how I could possibly keep going for another 24 miles. I started to get a bit tearful; I wanted to speak to my Mum, to get some rational view on how I felt and some words of comfort. But there was no phone signal and she would almost certainly have told me to return to Glenridding and pull out. So I kept plodding forwards, much too aware of the water sloshing around in the bottle that sat right over my stomach. The nausea rose and fell, the heat irritated me more; I kept breathing long slow breaths and tried to stay calm. I spoke to myself aloud ‘stay calm, just focus’. I ate a fudge bar and felt a little better. Mile 13 passed, the trails were lovely and the day was just beautiful. Let’s just get to the next check point, where Daniel will be waiting.  And then, in slow motion just as last time, I fell hard onto the floor. I can still hear the thuds of my body as various bits slammed against the ground – luckily I hadn’t been running very fast, or the fall would have been harder. Even more luckily, my hands responded this time, and stopped my face from hitting the rocky ground. My knee and leg weren’t so lucky, and as I crawled back up mud and blood intermingled in a gooey mess down my shin. The lady ahead turned back to check that I was ok – ‘I think so’ – I washed myself in a nearby spring, started running a bit more. Things couldn’t have felt any worse at that point. Mile 13 and I was ready to stop.

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The hardest point of the race came almost precisely after that moment. The path veered upwards, rocky scree underfoot, and soon I’d caught up with a number of other runners who were also trying to make the ascent. More runners piled up behind, and I think it’d be fair to assume that we were all going through something similar. The climb kept on coming; even walking this path was difficult, and my anxiety, nausea and dread melted away in the effort. This was the point where I really began to draw on those around me, all chatting with good-humour to try and relieve the burn in our legs and the fatigue that was creeping as far as my fingertips already. At this point I let go of all of my shattered expectations and realised that every step was a new challenge – every step was unknown and the only thing I could guarantee in the moment. Letting go of all of this made the load much lighter; the nausea disappeared and I didn’t see the sore throat again until 2 days after the run.

I say that was the hardest point of the race. In fact, I just assumed it would be the hardest point because it was the biggest climb. But no, the hard part was the excruciating descent once we’d passed Grisedale Hause. I could feel the fibres in my thighs shredding into pieces. Oh my, it was agony. Again, the runners kept me going, as well as the promise of seeing Daniel, who was waiting just three miles away. I was way behind schedule and had no signal to let him know – I knew he’d be very worried by now.

The heat of the day hit at around 3pm, and as we came down from the mountains it started to get very hot, but at least I was able to get some proper running in, pushing myself as much as I could to get to the checkpoint at Grasmere. I felt stones in my shoes, but when I took them off to empty them there was nothing there; not even 15 miles in and I already had a number of nasty blisters developing, thanks to the combination of heat and damp in my shoes. I decided to push forwards and hoped they’d go away; stupid really, since I learned (the hard way) years ago that blisters don’t just disappear.

Arriving at the checkpoint was a real high; Daniel ran with me for a bit and then I went inside to get a cup of sweet tea. We sat down in a shady area (first time off my feet in 5 hours!) and I ate some more food, gulped down loads of water and topped up my bag with extra food and fluid. Daniel covered me in more suncream and gave my shoulders a rub. Pack heavy, replenished and feeling positive I set off again, wondering how on earth my Dad was able take on double the challenge – I’d heard from him at about 9am, when he’d already completed the full distance of my race.

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This is where my race strategy really started. The plan had been to get through the first 18 miles, then on to the checkpoint at mile 23, and then I’d see Daniel again at the final checkpoint at mile 28. My newly-refreshed mind was able to focus on these smaller milestones, and so I decided to take the next five miles carefully, one mile at a time: at this point I felt for the first time that I might actually be able to finish. And, despite aching knees, agony in my thighs and blisters covering the majority of the soles of my feet, I really started to enjoy the running. The support from marshalls and bemused passers-by was simply astounding, and the runners around me felt more like friends than near-strangers. At the next check point I caught up with Maria, a lady I’d run with at the marathon, and it was great to see a familiar face and to swap ultra-notes. I heard myself proclaiming ‘only a half marathon to go!’ at this point: looking back I can’t quite believe that this somehow reassured me! Still, I’d reached my check point – so far so good – and the next challenge was a 10km run to Stickle Barn Tavern, where Daniel would be waiting.

Just put one foot in front of the other. That’s all I had to do; I kept reminding myself that the only challenge was in the moment, to move forwards step-by-step despite what was now excruciating pain in my feet. I had blister plasters, they were part of the mandatory kit, but the problem was that I didn’t have spare socks and I couldn’t bear to remove my crusty ones and then have to put them on again. The good thing was that the pain had become irrelevant – my only clear thought was getting to the next mile, and then to the next checkpoint. Running is a meditation for me, and I can’t remember at all what went through my head in this final half of the race. I was enjoying it, and I wasn’t feeling unwell or anxious or negative in any way, so all I can assume is that I was lost somewhere without any thoughts. The Lakeland fells and the tap-tap-tap of feet on surface allow that kind of escape from everything; it’s why the idea of travelling so far on my own two feet was so appealing in the first place.

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The peace that I’d found in this penultimate leg was shattered in the best possible way at Stickle Barn Tavern. It was overrun with people – runners, spectators, marshalls, casual diners, cyclists – and the buzz of excitement (only 7 miles to go!) was fuel in itself. I took some soup and a cup of tea and stumbled back onto a bench outside. It was gone 7pm by this point (8 hours on my feet) and the glow and scents of the evening cast a warm tinge over everything. Daniel had brought Coke, which I gulped down, and presented me with four more Fudge bars which I refused. I’m not sure I want to eat another Fudge bar in a long time. With some trepidation I got up and started running into the evening, assuring Daniel that I’d see him soon enough at the finish. With only 7 miles to go I was pretty certain that I’d get to the finish, I just had to keep putting those feet in front of one another.

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Thanks to James Kirby as always for the excellent photos!

Surprisingly, these last 7 miles were the easiest for me. There was a lot of smooth surface to run on, and I was able to keep running without stopping to walk for miles at a time. Everything hurt, but it was irrelevant – I could keep going forwards, and so I would keep going forwards. My Garmin beeped me through 30 miles and I got a rush of excitement: this was a strange new territory, but I quite liked it. At mile 31 I felt the sharpest and worst pain yet; it came and went in a moment, yet it led me to cry out in agony as I felt as if I’d stepped onto a shard of glass or a nail. Something warm tricked over my toes, and I realised that the worst blister had popped: finally I was free to run on my forefeet again!

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I was pretty much alone for these last few miles, intermittently catching up with or being caught up by familiar faces. At mile 32 I started singing to myself Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen (unfortunately I only know a few lines so it got a little repetitive) and Superman by Goldfinger (I know all the words to that one). Mile 32, how had that happened? Only a Parkrun-plus-a-warm-up left. Mile 33 – only a Parkrun left to go; each mile seemed easy when I imagined setting off from my front door and running down the river and over the bridge until my Garmin beeped one mile outside Rowntree Park. Not far at all. Mile 34 and a marshall assured me that there were only two climbs left and then it was all downhill. Two climbs and downhill? There was nothing ‘only’ about any of that, but then I’d get over another mountain if I had to; I’d run 34 miles, I could do anything! Mile 35 and day finally turned to dusk, which made me a little sleepy after 10 hours of running. I could hear a tawny owl, and beyond that, the finish line. Then came the downhill of my worst nightmares, so much so that I had to cut out the running and walk – my eyes were watering from the screaming in my shredded thighs. But then we were in Rothay Park, and there were people cheering and clapping, and my legs took over and the pain disappeared: I was sprinting around the corner, cheered on by people who I’d been encouraging onwards hours and miles ago. I saw Daniel, and my Dad standing next to him, and part of me didn’t want to be finished quite yet.

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Awestruck, of myself and of everyone else. Of Graham Patten and the Lakeland Trails team who completed an ultramarathon of organisation that weekend. Of the marshalls who were the kindest people I’ve ever met even after hours standing around taking care of us tired and hungry runners. Of the people cheering. Of all of the other runners, equally the fastest and the slowest of us all – we achieved something brilliant on Saturday, whether or not we crossed that finish line (a good number didn’t; pulling out can take more strength than staying in). Of the guy with the cowbell who cheered me up on both occasions that I passed him – never underestimate the power of a cowbell. Or of a Fudge bar and some Coke. Of my Dad who ran double the distance and still had the energy to complain that he didn’t do a very good job (something that I am often guilty of myself). Of my husband who gave up his Saturday to support me, and who was, on a few occasions, the only reason I carried on. Of the person who decided that veggie chilli would be the appropriate meal to serve us after such a long day, and the girl with pigtails who let me have a massive second portion. And, most importantly, of every single runner who I spoke to during those long 10 hours and 53 minutes; you are the main reason that I was able to finish the UT55, and I wish I could thank each one of you for helping me through. If I’d been given a free mile for every person who asked if I was ok upon seeing my bloodied knee I could have done the UT110 without much effort. But then without the effort it wouldn’t have been so much fun, would it?

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Early bird entries for 2016 open soon. The only decision to be made is whether to do the 55km or to go mad and do the 110km this time instead.

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