Race The Light – Pure Trail UK

This last weekend was my final race for 2018 and although there is no Medal Monday to show for it, my Garmin route and Trail Events buff serve as medals enough. As it turns out, it was the kind of running event where the other runners looked very fast; short shorts whatever the weather kind of fast runners who’s french baguette legs and strong quads make you question your decision to start running at all and consider whether maybe there’s another sport out there more suited to you.

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Where the estuary meets the Sea

The weather was everything you don’t want on race day: rain coming down in sheets so hard it bounced and winds that make standing straight a challenge not to be messed with. The start line was on the beach with a clear stretch of hard wet sand to the estuary which wound up just above my knees deep. This river crossing was what I was most apprehensive about due to the cold I anticipated (I had no idea how shit my head torch was at this point). I don’t think I need to explain the cold; it was as cold as you most likely imagine it to have been complimented with lashings of wind and pelting rain pellets trying to penetrate your skin. This was a moment for using mindfulness to zone out of some sensations and into the task in hand. I breathed through it slowly and focused on the water just ahead of me. Each time after a while, the water became more shallow again as I waded towards the other side.

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The sun going down down dowwwwnnnn

The crowd were all seemingly very friendly with numerous encouragements of “well done” more times than I can remember by other runners who were essentially lapping me on the return loop. This was all very friendly and well meaning, but with the course being a turn around loop I did feel rather inadequate and uncomfortable with my own performance. I know I often says “comparison is the thief of joy” and I stand by that statement. It really is, however after a while, and once I got to the turn around point it was just me and the woodland trail running along the estuary.

I really enjoyed the peace and quiet of the trail and it was a really nice antidote to a week of exams, excessive socializing and generally being quite busy. Even when I was alone in the pitch black with just my phone torch I was able to take this in my stride. My head torch died, although was also absolutely useless even when it was working. The only sounds were birds, the flowing water that morphed into waves and strong winds as I edged closer to the beach again, the creaking of enormous trees swaying in the wind and my feet squelching along the trail.

With this being the area I grew up in, being in the woods after dark is nothing new to me. I spent half of my teenage years deep in the woods at night with my friends in these areas. A trip down memory lane was the initial attraction of this race for me, and in bringing me some of the calm I found in woodland when I was younger it served it’s purpose well.

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Early on with the optimism that I might beat the light…..

The final stretch across the sand was the most difficult stretch despite being essentially flat and able to see the lights of the end up the hill. It was at this point that I kept imagining myself on a documentary about my life and running, and imagining how the people on Gogglebox would be cheering me on through the wind and rain. Having an imaginary cheer team from the warmth of their imaginary sofas whilst I faced the elements seemed to really help. A hot chocolate in the refurbished old school house was a good end to a grueling and good day out.

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Well and truly beaten by the sunset…

Although this won’t go down as a best performance run it is definitely a learning curve and experience under my belt kind of run. Maybe next year I won’t have the apprehension about crossing such deep cold water. To top it off, I saw some crabs in the estuary water – now there’s something you don’t so on a road race.

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Man Vs Coast – The First Run

If you’ve ever visited the Rat Race website you’ll know what I mean when I tell you that we signed up to Man Vs Coast following a brief episode of excitement from watching the promo film. It’s the music, I’m telling you, it gets you riled up and wishing you could teleport to the start line right now. Man Vs Coast was sold as 20+ miles and closer to 20 than 30, from my understanding. My understanding could have been off, who knows? In my mind I thought “what’s 20 miles of adventure after 26.2 at the London marathon? I could definitely knock out 20 after the marathon, easy!” as I would be, here’s the cinch, trained for it as a by-product of my London Marathon training. Ah, well, things haven’t quite panned out this year as I had planned although they certainly haven’t panned out bad either. I can’t complain but I definitely do not have a season of marathon training behind me, or in my legs.

The only training I have managed for either event is a general improvement in my fitness from working on exercising more consistently. I’ve not exactly done nothing, I’ve just done nothing specific to either event. I’ll say this now, I don’t and would never recommend this approach to either event. I also wouldn’t intentionally do each event without training again.

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We registered the night before and you can either camp or stay locally. We camped. I love camping and it really is much easier to wake up at the crack of dawn because you get all the natural light induced wakefulness. There was quite an extensive kit list that was checked at registration, however having done the race the only thing I would skimp on next time if the weather was similar would be the optional extra layer I carried; I didn’t need it and there was no way I was going to get cold sitting still if my leg fell off at all, except perhaps from a shock reaction, maybe?

We got a shuttle bus to the start at Marazion Beach by St Michael’s Mount where we waited for a good while. My only complaint would be that the shuttle buses were far too early for the start time.

First things first we dumped our bags on the beach after 100m and swam out to a Rat Race float which was definitely at not-standing-depth, except for the incredibly tall, into the Channel Sea. It was good fun and great to be jumping into the sea at 9am. I found that the peer pressure of being surrounded by people just getting on with it gave me the encouragement and guts to do exactly that and suck it up: a really refreshing and great way to start a race. If it was pissing it down and blowing a gale I’m pretty sure I’d feel very differently.

We ran along the beach for a few miles. Then another swim before leaving the awkward underfoot of trying to run on sand. By trying I mean really trying! This time the swim was much further but the reward? Climbing on a rigged float and jumping off like a kid at the swimming pool. At the lido I still jump in anyway but in general swimming it’s frowned upon for a nearly 30-year-old woman on her own to bomb into the water repeatedly. It’s a shame really because it’s still fun no matter your age – so I really appreciated the chance to do exactly that before the slog back to land against the undercurrent. It was a brilliant way to get us smiling for the first few miles and really not thinking about the momentous task ahead of us. Trust me when I say this, the task ahead was mammoth.

This was the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever done, thanks to my trail shoes being too small for me on race day for some unknown reason, this was fucking hard. We cut up from the beach along a river bed. I didn’t knock my head on the bridge over the river because I was fiddling with my GoPro at all. Nope, that wasn’t me. After a while we were cutting through villages and cul de sacs until we hit the country lanes winding up to the moorland and over to the north coast.

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I honestly thought that once we hit the north coast trail we’d be grand. I thought it would be relatively undulating but not brutal all the way to Land’s End. If you ran it or know the Southwest coast trail on the north coast of Cornwall, you’ll know what a ridiculous idea this is: laughingly ridiculous. It turns out that we had severely underestimated this race, the distance, relentlessness and difficulty.

It has to be said, the scenery was absolutely phenomenal. I mean ‘are we even in the UK right now?’ phenomenal. We followed the coast up and down, up and down, for what felt like eternity. Eventually we snaked down to a boat slope leading into the sea at the end of the most enticing and beautiful beach there could have been at that moment. For miles, we were gawping at the stunning beauty of that beach and desperately pining to jump in the water. Luckily Rat Race had this figured out and that’s exactly how that leg of the race ended; with the most refreshing and welcome dip in the Atlantic Sea you’ve ever witnessed. It was bliss. I didn’t want to get out, I wanted to stay and float and bob around like an overheated seal, alas we had 14 more miles to cover and thought we were a mile out from half way. Nope. Not at all. We didn’t have a clue.

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For added excitement, because running 25 miles on coastal paths just isn’t exciting enough for Rat Race, there were scrambling activities on the rocks way off the beaten track, there was a cliff jump, more scrambling, endless brutal hills that made the genuine ‘Vertical Kilometer’ look like satire; I swear we climbed much tougher and longer hills than the one assigned official ‘Vertical Kilometer’ status. Navigating through bracken and overgrowth taller than ourselves, dipping my hat in rivers and eating my snacks definitely made for much more adventure than any road race could ever dare to imagine. Early on I had joked that I was going to eat my way around the course. That turned out to not be that much of a joke; I really did eat my way around the course.

Finally we hit the final beach, Sennen Cove, which went on for what felt like forever. After a clumsy and painful scramble across some rocks we were on our final ascent to Land’s End. The finish was in touching distance. Despite being told a number of times about how close we really were to the finish line that last mile was the slowest most painful mile of my life. I really wish I was being a drama queen here but I’m not. We trudged and we trudged. People overtook us and one woman said “that looks painful” when I was walking. It was indeed very fucking painful.

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My feet had swollen as you would expect on a 25 mile route and my shoes had felt tight as soon as I put them on in the morning. Eventually we came around the corner then finally, and it really was a finally, the finish line was in sight. We could see it, someone announced our arrival on the microphone and we were cheered in by our fellow rat racers who looked much less broken than I felt at that moment. My Dad and I hugged a long drawn out hug before getting our medals, our finishers photo and some hot soup. Finally I could allow myself to sit down because it didn’t matter now if I didn’t want to get up for ages, and I didn’t.

Finishing Man Vs Coast brought such a smile of relief, pride and absolute joy that we had conquered the coast.

“It was Man VS Coast, so she came from London and Mon Vs Coast commenced….and she wonnnnnnnnn” *crowd cheers and I hold up an imaginary huge trophy belt*

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The end wasn’t as glamorous as my imagination paints it to be but it was the most welcome finish line I’ve ever crossed in my life just above Hackney Half 2017. Despite all the pain and just plodding on I would also definitely do it again. I will wear Size 8s next time and do some training so I don’t have to pull an awkward face when the medic asks me how I was with fluid retention during my training after I’ve asked for a paracetamol for my headache.

“Did you do any training?” *shrugs with an awkward face* It’s apparently impressive that we even finished without training and I think he might be right considering there was a 30% DNF rate from the starting and finishing stats. I’m proud of myself for finishing and pleased that I didn’t give up. I will also have all the views and memories and joy from skipping through bracken on the moorland to the north coast thinking we were so much closer to the finish than we were, and the joy of swimming in the Atlantic after a scorching trek along the trail, and the shower afterwards feeling like a miracle healer on my broken self.

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It truly was an adventure. Man Vs Coast definitely didn’t fall short on delivering a real adventure exactly like I’d been hoping for. If you’ve got the guts and the grit go for it. It’s bloody brilliant and I hope to see you at the start line next year.

Marathon Training Journal: Week Three

Week 3:
Monday.
Run 1, type: Just getting out the door!! 2km Run/walk with M.

I got home late this evening. I stayed late at uni doing work then got on the wrong train on my way home. I relaxed for a bit after getting in. I had to give myself a bit of a talking to about running this evening. I’ve been slacking off a bit, if I’m honest. I know I’ve been a bit unstable but if I’m going to get close to stable again, running and exercise is a big piece of that puzzle within what that picture looks like for me.

I can give myself excuses as much as I like. I’m only cheating myself. I can take in my lies of not having time and feeling weak and I’ll go later/tomorrow/on Monday. The thing is though, if I’m going to progress to a level of fitness that the marathon requires then I’m going to have to stop letting myself accept my excuses. I need to be real and honest with myself – and sometimes that means looking in the mirror and giving myself a reality talk.

So despite it being past midnight I went. I also delivered some keys that I needed to drop off that I wouldn’t have managed that day either had I not gone. The enjoyment of running with a friend helped with my motivation, which means that I need to prioritize running crew in my weekly schedule. I miss those guys and the only reason I’ve not been for a while is myself.

Wednesday:
Run 2, Race: Run in the Dark 5K

Again I was struggling with mojo. I had a race and the idea of it was starting to build up in my mind and make me anxious. I got to the start line because someone was coming to support and cheer me. We were going to hang out after and the next day, and by the time I left it to potentially pull out I knew they’d be on their way – and their journey was longer than mine. Also, my house was nowhere near Battersea Park unfortunately – Hai millionaires land.

The race took a while to start. Once we began though I got a bit excited and started off quite fast. I did achieve my fastest km to date on Strava – yay mini PB! After a while I had to settle in and go slower because ya know, just because I’m looking at longer races that doesn’t mean 5km can be sprinted 🙈

I settled in although had a few hang ups. I had crampy calves and I had been feeling permanently slightly dehydrated for a few days. I hadn’t run for a few days. I hadn’t been eating particularly nutritious food. I felt it. I felt the consequences of having not eaten particularly well for a couple of weeks. I felt the consequences of not addressing my hydration early on. I think if you’re having signs of dehydration there is no waste in using a re-hydration tab, even if you just use half of one to make sure everything is on track. I will bare this in mind in the future.

The beauty of this being a journey is that you win some and you learn some. You don’t lose, you learn. I’m going to make mistakes. I’m going to do dumb stuff when I’m training and in each dumb act there is a lesson to learn to be a little less dumb in the future.

There’s a quote image I saw that sais “fall in love with the process and the results will come”. I think this is actually very true – and I am slowly learning more than I knew before yet I know that I have SO MUCH yet to learn. There are so many mistakes out there waiting for me to make them, and for me to learn from them. This race was one of those – if not this whole week.

Friday:
Gym session

I packed for the gym today last night. I got everything ready to get up, eat porridge and go. Getting out the door wasn’t quite as seamless as that. I did however make it to the gym – which is am improvement on only going for yoga classes. I’m enjoying the yoga classes but they’re not going to do the trick alone. I need to graft on strengthening and conditioning if I’m going to see myself strong enough to complete 26.2 miles in april.

And shit, April!? That’s very soon in the grand scheme of things.

I am feeling a new wave of motivation at the moment which is very welcome. There are some things I need to learn and master within myself. I need to harbour the power of people in my training. I think training with other people who I can eventually call friends will be a  very important lesson for me. Not only in terms of my fitness goals because I think running and climbing provide a perfect opportunity for me to work on many aspects of my life that I feel I need to work on – such as discipline, sticking to plans, talking to nw people without internally losing my mind whilst my stomachs convulses in a violent version of the butterflies from anxiety that feels more like fireworks erupting in my torso.

Fitness gives me a lot – it teaches me a lot about myself and other people. It’s something I need to prioritize because when I am active I always feel better for it.

Saturday:
Box Hill Tough 10 race. I wrote a whole post about this yesterday.

Sunday:
My first time going to a trendy class in London. I haven’t been to an up market gym like this before – I also wrote a lot about this in yesterday’s post. I was surprised by just HOW HARD this class was. Wow! Just wow!

Cancer Research UK Tough 10, Box Hill

I was looking for some trail races a while ago. I like running. I love natural environments so it feels like a natural progression for me to take my running from the city to the trails.

For me personally there’s only so much city running you can do and feel inspired. There’s also the niggles you have to take into account like traffic lights, pedestrians that are waking, cars, bin bags, lamp posts… it’s a concrete jungle that leaves me feeling lack lustre at times.

To me my relationship with running feels like I would like it to progress as a way to get in nature, a method by which to explore the world and an experience that makes me feel very alive. Sometimes pollution fumes and sirens don’t quite do that for me. So I looked for some trail races and found the Tough 10 series by CRUK.

They rate the difficulty of their races by the number of trainers, 1-3. This race took part on Box Hill And was rated three trainers tough. Box Hill is known by cyclists and was one of the steepest ascents in the 2012 Olympic cycling events. The steepness of the ascent is quite brutal.

On the first ascent we climbed the steps by the stepping-stones. 270 stairs but not equal stairs, these are slippy woodland stairs which tend to be much more of a step than your average stairwell. I walked up and felt every breath and tiny oxygen atom mattered. Once at the top there were some flatter stretches, some down hill and a few more uphill.

I really enjoyed the variation of the terrain. I loved the views even though I’ve been and seen them before – there’s nothing more rewarding for climbing something than taking a breather to look around and admire the views you earned from the climb. The ground was quite slippy and I didn’t lose my footing.

I rolled my ankle once and didn’t go over or injure myself thanks, I think, to the ankle wiggling exercises I do before a run. Running on the slope down hill felt amazing when it was a gentle gradient. I felt like I could relax and my legs just carried me along. I felt so free and alive just running through the woodland. My legs just carried me and I breathed easy.

I honestly feel like I’m starting to get the going for a run to relax and unwind thing. It’s not always super hard work anymore – and it now is very enjoyable. I’m definitely going to be hitting up some more trails – it wasn’t as hard for me mentally as I expected it to be.

This race was 10k and I feel like I’m finally comfortable with than distance so now it feels like the right time to started increasing my distance up to 15/20km. Bring it!

I went to Kobox yesterday and although that was a 50 minute class it felt much harder mentally to stay in the class and push through despite being less time – I think this was because we did exercises by the wall as well as punching the bag and the exercises were weighted so I struggled quite a lot with them. Whereas I’ve been running more consistently for a few months now so my body is quite used to t by comparison to weighted squats, trunk twists and mountain climbers.

I mean I already established last week that my core isn’t strong enough and that I’ve lost some of the core strength I did have – and this class confirmed my thoughts further.

So here’s to getting my mojo back. Here’s to trail running being bloody fabulous. Here’s to increasing the distance and getting stronger in order to do this.