Testing my limits – Race to the Stones 100km

I feel numb. Ever since 3am Sunday morning, when I crossed the finish line of the 100km Race to the Stones, I have been trying to process what I have achieved.


Part of me thinks 19 hours is a terrible time so I feel foolish for having put myself through this challenge in the first place, as was I really up to it?

Part of me is incredulous that my own two feet carried me that far. 100km. 63.4 miles when you include the diversions to the pitstops which were off route. 20 parkruns. 19 hours on my feet, constantly moving forward.

Part of me is proud that I even had the guts to put myself on that start line. Many have told me they wouldn’t. I wonder why I did.

Part of me is angry at myself for having risked my health for the sake of a stupidly long race, especially when I heard a fellow runner had been hospitalised for kidney failure.

Part of me feels guilty at having dragged my husband down to Avebury with me to support me through the night, instead of us spending time with our daughter at home, when we are already very tight on family time.

Part of me just feels smug that I’ve run 100k. But how do you move on from that?

Like I said, I don’t know what to feel. I don’t have that post event high I expected; every time I think about it I want to cry with relief and incredulity and especially gratitude to the people who helped me that day.

Let’s rewind – I was offered a place at this incredible event in May, a few days before my first ultra at Dukeries. It had been on my radar for ages, as a must-do event. Something about it just captured my imagination; it seemed magical. So it was a no-brainer really – I had to say yes, I mean what an opportunity! The two day option entered my mind briefly, but really I wanted to see whether I could keep going non stop. I wanted to truly call myself a 100km ultra runner. So I signed up.

Training had gone to plan, but only in the sense that I didn’t have a plan at all, and after spending 3 weeks recovering from my first ultra, which I had done on the back of marathon training, I did a 20 miler, a few 15-16 milers, the Round Sheffield Run, and then commenced my taper. I could have done more running. I should have practised my fuelling more. But it is what it is.


Before I go into an account of my race, let me just clarify that this is not a review. This is a brain dump of my own experience of Race to the Stones so that I can try to understand what motivated me to tackle it in the first place, and what kept me going when I fell apart around 68km and was ready to quit. WARNING: This will always be the race where I shit my pants, so if you are of a sensitive disposition, please don’t read on. Ultra running is a bit grim like that. I’ve accepted it, I’m not ashamed of it, it’s just one of those things that happens when you push your body to its limits.

The Race
Saturday 15th July dawned cloudy with the chance of rain. I awoke in my B&B just outside Avebury at 5am, had a quick breakfast of toast and porridge, and a coffee, and then set off to the finish at Rutland Farm to catch the bus to the start. The overwhelming smell on the bus was of insect repellent, and I was trying to block out the loud and nervous chatter of other runners panicking out loud. I was nervous that my bowels appeared to be on strike, contrary to my usual 2PRP (2 pre-race poos). The bus took 1 hour 40 minutes to reach our destination – all I could think was how long it would take me to run all that way back.


Registering was a quick affair, with no queues for either number collection or the toilets, and after a brief chat to the baggage attendant about his own dreams to complete this race next year, I headed over to the start line to start 15 minutes later than planned at 8:15am and hadn’t managed to get there in time to meet the other UKRunChat guys doing the race, so I felt a little alone and out of sorts, although I did briefly see @moosenshoes and @jedi58, until I saw a madwoman run over to me waving frantically. It was Katy!! Katy had used to run with my club, moved away, and I hadn’t seen her for ages, so it was nice to have a hug and see a friendly face and wish each other well. We would meet up later in the race, but it was important we paced ourselves to our own abilities and not try to keep up with one another at the start so I said goodbye for now.

Tip: catch an earlier bus than you think you need. It’s a LONG way to the start line from the finish.

I take ages to warm up, so set off at a very steady pace. Even though we were in small waves, it was quite a narrow section so it still took a bit of stop/start to get running properly. I genuinely don’t remember much about this section except that it was undulating with a massive hill. Before I knew it, I was at the first pit stop, and I spent what seemed like ages deciding what food to have, as the choice was massive! In hindsight, I shouldn’t have stopped here, as I wasted a HUGE amount of time at pitstops throughout the race (3 hours in total), but breaking the distance into these small sections was really helping me come to terms with the massive distance in my head. I also made myself visit the loo – I had promised myself I would ensure I was well hydrated because the last ultra (Dukeries) I went a whole 8 hours without going for a wee, which is not good. This time I wanted to look after myself properly.


Katy caught me up shortly after that pitstop, and it was nice to run together for a while and have a chat as it helped the early miles pass quickly. Katy went on to run a fabulous 50k time, whereas I needed to save myself for the full 100km, so Katy soon ran on ahead. I didn’t talk much to others in this section, so I found it quite lonely. There was also about 3 hours of rain, which really dampened my spirits (pun intended!) However, the scenery was lovely, and the pit stops were very regular, so before I knew it, I had reached 40k. I stopped here and sat down to change my t-shirt which had got drenched in the rain of earlier, and my socks which were starting to rub my heels as they were sodden. I continued onto the 50k mark, hobbling a little by now with blister pain, but still feeling ok.


The base camp was in a stunning location, with views for miles! As I approached the camp, I spotted Shona and had a big hug!!


The set up here was quite odd – I think the whole event is very much geared up to those covering the distance over two days, so they made me run through the finish line for a halfway chiptime, and then I could simply loop round and back onto the course, or I could go for some refreshments. By this point, my tummy was bloated and painful, so first stop was the loo, and I then went to see the medic who looked at my blister and put some rock tape on it to stop the friction. He did warn me they would have to lance it if it got bigger. That done, I went to see what hot food was on offer as it was 4pm and I had eaten breakfast at 5am. I wasn’t that hungry actually, so I opted for a cup of soup and a bread roll, a cup of tea, and a small slice of carrot cake from the Ministry of Cake. Then I thought I’d better get on my way. I felt a bit sad to leave, as there was a musician just setting up to play something, and a lady from FitBit was encouraging people to join a yoga class starting in a few minutes. For the first time, I questioned why I was putting myself through the ordeal of a 100km, and hadn’t opted to camp overnight and complete the rest in the morning, but I guess that’s just not me. I wanted to really challenge myself.


As I left base camp, Dan phoned to ask where I was, and said he’d meet me a little further down the road. For the first time I got chatting to a fellow runner, as we were in the grown up race now, and then I saw Dan waiting for me at the bottom of the road. We walked together for a while, and he asked was it what I expected. I thought about it, and no, it wasn’t. I had expected more magnificent views. I had expected more cameraderie, but I think the fact some were doing ‘just’ 50k today, others were doing 100k over two days, and some like me were tackling 100k all in one go, meant the entire field didn’t really feel like a team. Plus, until you get past marathon distance anyway, you don’t really need to dig that deep. It looked like a lot of people had signed up to run the event together, whereas I didn’t really have anyone to run with, so I was feeling a bit lonely, and worrying about the last section, especially in the dark. We reached the car, I dumped my wet kit with Dan, emptied some foodstuffs out that I really wouldn’t need as the pitstops were so well stocked, and went on my way. Dan promised to see me again shortly after the 60km pitstop.


From here, it was pretty much uphill for MILES. My race plan was to run where I could but always walk the uphills, but this was endless uphill! It seemed to take me ages. I was doing around 15 minutes per mile, marching as best I could, but then every time I tried to run, my bowels felt like they wanted to explode and my tummy felt uncomfortably bloated. It was agony. I don’t know if I had eaten something that had disagreed with me, or if I hadn’t drunk enough water or taken on enough salts, but it was so painful. At the next pitstop, I tried unsuccessfully to have another poo, and then had the medic there dress my other blisters, and shortly after that Dan was waiting again. Chafing had also started by then, so a good dollop of vaseline, some salty crisps, and I was on my way again. Very slow progress. The next pitstop seemed to take FOREVER to reach. I was reaching a real low point by now, and turned to Instagram and Twitter for a boost, and wow, did that help! Messages of love and support poured in; so many I am still working my way through them. What a community we have there. By the time I reached pit stop 7, I had a good cry to the medic there who told me I probably needed “a sweet cup of tea, plenty of water and a good fart.” I carried on anyway because what else could I do? But I was in agony. At that point I really just wanted to see Dan for a hug but because I couldn’t run for fear of exploding bowels, it seemed to take forever! After a few tearful phonecalls to him, he promised me he was not far down the road where I would run shortly, and he was on his way to get me some food. I ordered sausage and chips. It took forever. I felt like I was moving backwards I was going so slowly! Eventually I reached a road and we turned left to run down it. There were loads of people on it cheering runners past, and all I could do was cry at them! One really kind chap walked with me for a bit and asked if I was ok. I told him my husband was meeting me with food, but I couldn’t find him, so he promised me this road was only another mile and a half max, so he was sure I would reach him soon. Eventually, I saw him! 68km. I wanted to lie down and cry. I had reached a true low point. Dan made me sit down in the boot and eat some sausage and chips. Honestly I felt queasy and not hungry, but I forcefed myself with as much as I could manage, then told him I really didn’t want to carry on. “You volunteered for this,” he said. He’s very wise, my husband. “I’d be disappointed if I gave up,” I said, “but I’m in a lot of pain”. At that point I stood up and tried to let out some of the gas building up in my stomach, at which point my shorts exploded. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I shit my pants in a layby near the M4. I had reached a new low. Dan’s face when I asked him for a tissue was a picture, and made me laugh so hard. Thank goodness I had packed a spare pair of shorts. And tissues. To be honest, I was laughing so much at that point that I didn’t care how utterly pathetic I must have looked, soiling myself at the side of the road. I found it hilarious, and it actually got me over that really low couple of hours I’d just had. As I changed my shorts, I could overhear Dan talking to somebody just around the corner, who was giving up. I could hear him offering her a walking partner in me, for company, but she declined. (Maybe she heard the explosion?) Anyway, I knew then that I didn’t want to be that person, looking for excuses to quit. So I got up and left. A rowdy bunch of people in funny hats had just marched past us, so Dan ordered me to catch them up and walk with them.  So onwards I went.

And here is where the magic happens. Ultra running (or in my case, hobbling, walking, marching, whatever you want to call it) is about finding your limits. My limit is not 68km. I know that now, because I made a conscious decision that I would carry on and not quit. I spotted that rowdy bunch 5 minutes further on, as we hit another hill, and waiting at the gate for me to access the field was the same man who had just shown me such kindness 20 minutes ago when I was a babbling mess looking for Dan. “Did you find your husband?” he asked? Yes, I replied, and he’s fed me, and given me a good talking to, and told me I’ve got to carry on. “Walk with this lot,” he said, gesturing uphill to the behatted bunch. He shouted for them to wait, and told them to look after me. He was my angel that day – without his kindness I may well have quit as half an hour previously I really wasn’t enjoying myself any more.

My new companions introduced themselves as Swindon Shin Splints running club. Verity was wearing a Captain’s hat. It was Verity’s 1st ultra, and first marathon, and she was completing the event to raise money for a friend who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Rod, Chris and Chris had just joined her to complete the final 20 miles with her as support. Instantly I learned Chris was a vegan, as I told him how I’d just enjoyed sausage and chips. He wasn’t offended. They were all taking part in Jo’s Hilarious Hat Challenge to wear a silly hat each day throughout July to raise money in support of her battle with cancer. We got a march on up the hill, chatting easily about ultra running. Chris told me stories of his epic challenges, most recently the GUCR, and exchanged race stories and training tips and before I realised we were at the next checkpoint. It’s incredible how your mood can change so dramatically during an ultra. I was riding that rollercoaster, and I was on top of the world again.


Through the evening, we walked. We snacked. We stopped regularly for cups of tea and sandwiches. I didn’t care that I had slowed down; I was grateful for company. And it was enjoyable company – I had a few belly laughs that evening with my new companions. Emotions ride high towards the end of an ultra, and these guys were so experienced that they knew exactly how Verity and I were feeling. They cracked jokes, they told stories. Verity had dedicated each mile of that race to somebody, as a mechanism to help her through mentally, so every time my Garmin beeped another mile, she told us a story about somebody different, somebody who had inspired her, or somebody who needed support, or remembering. It made each step very meaningful indeed. The wonderful support didn’t stop with our companions; between each checkpoint we were met by the Swindon Shin Splints support crew who had Uncle Simon on hand who was boiling water out of the boot of his car to make us cups of tea in porcelain mugs. We were treated like royalty!

The only thing I am a little sad about is that I missed all the wonderful scenery as we did the last 20km in the dark. (The field of enormous snoring dairy cows was terrifying in the dark!). We walked right through Barbury Castle but I couldn’t see it. Nor could I see the magnificent views from the Ridgeway. Nor did I see the Stones until I literally tripped over them. And that wasn’t even the end. Although the event is called Race to the Stones, you have to cover a whole extra mile BACK THE SAME WAY YOU HAVE JUST COME to reach the finish line. This section seemed to go on forever. By that point I was basically just grunting every time my blister hit the side of my shoe, and I was SO tired (it was 3am) and I remember asking how much further, and the reply was, “If they moved the finish line another 10 miles way, would you carry on?” Of course I bloody would. And then I mustered a run – well, a grandad shuffle – to the end together with Verity, because I didn’t have to run another 10 miles, but I knew that I would if I had to, and that was enough for me.


So that is my story. As I said earlier, it’s not a race review, it’s a very personal account of my own experience, and even writing this now I know there are things I have already forgotten and that makes me sad because I want to remember everything about this magnificent, brutal, epic, emotional day.


I said earlier that I knew I hadn’t reached my limit at 68km because I got up and carried on even though I was trying to talk myself out of it. But nor is 100km my limit, because if I did have to run another 10 miles or whatever if they moved that finish line as some kind of sick joke, I’d do it. I’d do it because I started it. I’d carry on. I know that now. I’m quite proud that I’ve put myself out there to test my limits, and I still don’t know what they are because I succeeded this time. I could easily have reached my limit at 90k, but that doesn’t matter. What’s important is that I was prepared to fail, because there was a chance I would succeed. So many people have told me that they wouldn’t even put themselves on the start line. Why not? Don’t fear failure. Fear never having the courage to step outside your own comfort zone and find out what you are truly capable of. There were moments, hours, up on that Ridgeway where I cursed myself for having put myself through this agony, but it’s the extreme highs and the extreme lows that enable us to really experience living. Life is about feeling, and ultra running is a truly sensory experience. The views, the blisters, the belly laughs, the gut bombs, the magnificent flavour of a cheese sandwich after 100km of pure agony, the acute agony of bum chafing, the power of a hug, the tears of misery, the tears of joy. I would go through all that again because life is about feeling. We have a duty to challenge ourselves. If you have even a tiny desire to find out whether you are capable of more, then go and try. Threshold Sports’ motto is “More is in you”, and it really is. Go find it.

Here is the link to the Race to the Stones website.

Here is the link to Racecheck so you can read actual reviews – I will get round to adding mine there too.

Here is the link to Verity’s friend’s fundraising page.

Here are my Strava stats

Thank you for reading.

Round Sheffield Run

I had been looking forward to the race ALL year. I had been eyeing it up for a couple of years and liked the concept of a timed stage race, but I had never got around to entering it. In fact, this year I had already entered a local 10 miler on the same day, but when entries opened, and my husband agreed to run it in a team with me, we decided to go for it! Round Sheffield Run was to be my summer fun run, conveniently positioned in between my two ultras in May and July.

We had not been too quick off the mark in booking and ended up on the 9:30am wave, which meant it wasn’t too early a start from Lincoln, but also meant we were quite late starting compared to many others. The event is chip timed, and consists of 11 timed stages totalling 20 kilometres, with the longest stage being 2.9km. There were recovery stages in between where you were given maximum times before you had to start the next phase. These times were based on walking pace between the points, or you were given slightly longer to take advantage of the two feed stations en route. It sounds complicated, but it’s really simple in practice. Essentially you carry a chip and dib in at the RFID device at the start and end of each stage so you get a total time at the end of the event for each timed stage.


The race village

Initial impressions at entering Endcliffe Park were of the enormous queue, which I feared were for the toilets, but I waited only around 15 minutes for the loo, and it turned out the enormous queue was to actually cross the start line. There were no queues at all at registration. We got straight into the startline queue at around 8:45am just in case we were waiting ages, but we were at the start before 9, and although they were checking colours of numbers we managed to sneak under the bar early (sorry guys!).

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The queue for the start

Stage 1   :  2.9km Endcliffe Park to Forge Dam

We left Endliffe Park and ran along a pleasant path up into the woods, which were breathtaking. Is this really a 5 minute run out of Sheffield? Beautiful green surroundings and a gradual ascent to warm you up for the big climb of Stage 2. There is a cafe here at the end of the stage with toilets, in case of queues at the start.

Stage 2   :  2.5km Porter Valley Ascent

Wow, what a tough climb! Up from the Forge Dam cafe this stage leads away from town and the climb gradually gets steeper and steeper. It’s a tough climb, and I normally take a good 4 miles to warm up, so I really struggled here (especially living in the flats of Lincolnshire), but the trails were once again stunning. I could certainly tell the locals who were used to running up these hills! I guess it’s good to get this stage out of the way early, rather than do it on tired legs later, and I was looking forward to the downhill afterwards!

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A gradual ascent warming us up for the hard climb to come

Thankfully there is a feed station at the top, so after a banana and some jelly babies, and waving hi to the alpacas, we had a nice walk recovery ready for the big downhill.

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Alpacas!

Stage 3   :  2.5km Limb Valley Descent

What a fantastic stage! A wide grassy trail leads to a fantastically fast downhill path through the woods. I felt like I was flying! In fact I was going so fast here that Ben the photographer actually missed me! Gutted I don’t have a photograph of me legging it down here!

Stage 4   :  1.8km Ecclesall Woods

The woods were beautiful and shady and I really enjoyed this section. There were plenty of roots so a really fun trail, which eventually spat us out at Dore Station. We had a brief walk to the next stage, and were very grateful to see we didn’t hit the timed section until we were at the top of the steep stairs, which everyone was walking up!

Stage 5   :  2.5km Beauchief Golf Course

Another stunning section through woodland, which still climbed even after those steps. This trail was single track so it was difficult overtaking other runners who we had caught up, but the path soon widened out as we reached the golf course.

Stage 6   :  0.9km Chancet Woods

A very short section through woods. Nice and quick!

Stage 7   :  1.4km Graves Park

More uphill! Seriously, how many hills does Sheffield have?

Stage 8   :  1.3km Lees Hall Golf Course

More fun downhill!!! And then back up again towards Meersbrook park where we were looking forward to the views over Sheffield.

Stage 9   :  0.8km Meersbrook Park

Views, views, views, all over the city. Stunning! Also an extremely fast descent. I stuck to the grass here rather than the tarmac path as I was scared I may trip over my own feet we were going downhill so quickly. Great fun!

Stage 10 :  2.2km Brincliffe Edge

My least favourite stage as it was through an urban area and I was here for the trails. It was also uphill, again!

Stage 11 :  0.4km Endcliffe Park Finish

This was supposed to be a sprint finish, but after the hills, my legs genuinely had nothing left! There were great crowds along the finish straight – really enoyed it!

The finish area

Immediately on finishing, you are given a medal, then a very detailed printout of your times. There was then another large queue to collect pre-ordered race tshirts (we bought one for a fiver) and snacks consisting of crisps, a trek bar, jelly babies and a bottle of water. I’m ashamed to say we didn’t stay to sample the Thornbridge beer there, but the atmosphere was very family-friendly and relaxed, with a DJ playing tunes. The sunshine really helped too.

My overall thoughts

Do I really have to wait a whole year until I can run this again?? Can we have a spring, summer, autumn and winter version please? I loved it. Actually, this route is all waymarked as the Round Sheffield Walk so it would be easy to go and run this route at any time. In total, the route is 15 miles. I was amazed at how many beautiful leafy trails Sheffield has. I loved the uniqueness of the timed stages. Actually, it seems a really innovative way for the organisers to avoid any expensive road closures, because there were always RFID devices at busy road crossings so you weren’t worrying about losing time, and the stages had been designed so cleverly so that the recovery stages included most of the crossings and the suburban areas. Absolute genius. I can’t wait to run it again!

Also a great medal, and good snacks at the end. The feed stations were really simple (water, half bananas and jelly babies) but that was all we needed. Simple, pure trail running, and plenty of fun! I also loved that there was no charge for the high quality photos uploaded onto Facebook, even if I am clearly too fast for the photographer to catch. Haha!


Stats

Total distance: 14.8 miles

Elevation: 1880 feet

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Here be Strava.

Why run when you can fly? Review: Shock Absorber’s Ultimate Fly Bra

As a keen runner, and a running coach, I LIVE in my running kit with my Lycra on a constant cycle through run, wash, dry, run, wash, dry, so I am always on the lookout for great, comfortable kit that does a good job. Shock Absorber is up there with the top sports bra brands, and I already own one of their Ultimate Run Bras, so when Boobydoo asked my to review their latest Ultimate Fly Bra, I jumped at the chance. Literally.


First impressions were:

  • Loved the colour. Grey is a fab colour for a bra in my opinion, as it won’t fade with plenty of washing, and it can go in with the darks or the colours, rather than sit in the whites basket for ages. The lime green also made it look really funky and I could envisage myself wearing it as a crop top, well, you know, when I eventually give up chocolate and carbs and get those abs I’ve been promising myself for, ooh, years.
  • Very comfortable to wear – couldn’t feel any seams that might chafe and it was easy to put on. My Ultimate Run Bra has me twisted like a contortionist trying to fasten it, but I like the double back fastening of this one. It also felt very soft, compared the the Ultimate Run Bra which feels a bit scratchy on my skin.
  • It felt a little loose and very lightweight, so I wasn’t convinced it would give me much support.

 

I took it out for a run straight away, obviously. I forgot I had it on. No uncomfortable bouncing, no chafing, and the best bit was it didn’t seem to hold the sweat against my skin which can often cause me a rash. It was a hot evening, but it felt nice and dry and comfortable, and most of all, supportive! Shock Absorber was aiming for the “second skin” sensation with this bra, and I really think they’ve cracked it. They say: “The 3-layered glued fabrics dissociates breast movement, absorbs breasts external movements and inner movements, supporting breasts by its anatomical molding shape. In other words, your breasts won’t move. The straps are non-slip and adjustable, while the band is brushed elastic to reduce friction and chaffing. The double back adjustment gives evenly distributed support across your back and shoulders, while a full back opening allows for breathability.”

I’ve worn this bra a lot, it has washed really well, and it’s earned its place accompanying me on a 100km adventure next week. Thank you for the opportunity to try it out Boobydoo!

Here’s the link to the Shock Absorber Ultimate Fly Bra on the Boobydoo website.

You can browse the full range of running bras on Boobydoo’s website here.

 

My pocket guide to parkruns

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that I am an avid parkrun tourist currently totalling 31 different events. You can read my blog about why I love parkrun tourism here, but I also thought other tourists may like to read my own very personal guide to the events I have completed. I would also like to invite you to submit bitesize guides of your own to the events I haven’t included yet. It’s going to take me a long time to review them all, so let’s collaborate! Please email me at michellemortimer@me.com with your bitesize review of any event which is missing from here.

Here are the events I’ve done so far, in alphabetical order.

Beeston parkrun 

Beeston is a flat course around a loop, which starts by the canal, makes a right turn to run alongside a field, another right turn to run alongside the River Trent, then another back to start. On passing the start, the route goes back alongside the canal, to a U-turn point, and then back on itself to the finish. I ran this with the dog, while my husband pushed our daughter in the buggy and we both found the paths very narrow for overtaking initially, and although the initial loop was pleasant enough, the out and back section was tricky. The start and finish is next to a large field and we did wonder why they hadn’t made use of this to make up the extra distance at the end. A pleasant parkrun, with nice views. Only one toilet so there were some queues at the ladies to start with. There’s a small carpark but we parked on the residential street alongside the canal.

Belton House parkrun

This is one of my favourite parkruns. It’s set in the beautiful parkland of the National Trust property, Belton House, and is a two lap course, mostly on grass with a bit of path. There’s plenty of space, and although the parkrun has gradually got busier and busier, it’s still a lovely open course. You often see deer running about here. I think it’s our dog’s favourite course too.

Bolton parkrun

It’s been a while since I’ve run this event, and both times I’ve found that hill incredibly tough. The course starts on a running track, runs down a hill and through some greenery, then turns back up a long slog of a hill. You then repeat the downhill and uphill before turning off to run a short out and back, before heading back onto the track to finish. I’ve promised myself I’ll go back soon as I haven’t yet run that course in under 30 minutes!

Burnley parkrun

I was gunning for a PB at Burnley, after the disappointment of Worsley Woods the previous day, but this was my second of a double parkrun on New Years Day and followed Watergrove. I set off at a decent pace, but once we left the path onto the mud, it all kind of slowed down. Burnley is a fun course with a cross country section in the middle of both laps. It also has a couple of mean inclines. I’d like to go back on fresh legs and have a proper crack at it – perhaps in summer. Superbly organised finisher funnel and so friendly as all events in that area tend to be.

Clumber Park parkrun

Clumber is a lovely two lap course in the ancient woodland cared for by the national trust. The loop itself runs around the event field, so it’s not the prettiest section, but there are some lake views, and some woodland, and it is a fast course, especially now they’ve gravelled the path so it’s not as ridiculously muddy as it once was. There’s a short sharp hill at the end of each loop, just before a nice fast downhill finish. Also the friendliest team of volunteers I’ve ever had the pleasure of helping out with.

Colwick parkrun

It was so hard to find the start of this event. We parked on the roadside near all the other cars, but by the time I had unloaded our toddler and the running buggy everyone had disappeared. We walked for around 10 minutes down the quietest riverside path I have ever known, with no sign of any other people in Lycra, or even of human life full stop. We came to a car park and eventually found somebody in Lycra, who pointed us in a different direction, another 5 minute walk away she said. Decent warm up though. It turned out there is a car park right near the start. A really well attended parkrun, and a beautiful route lapping around the lakes. Absolutely stunning, very friendly, and very flat.

Crosby parkrun

This is the parkrun I alway chuckle about. I had arranged to meet a Twitter friend Doug here, as it’s his local where he volunteers a lot. It was easy to find, and park, at the leisure centre, and it started right next to the sea. You run out through some sand dunes then turn onto the prom to head back. Usually the course then drops onto the beach to head out to one of Anthony Gormley’s statues who is volunteered as an iron marshall each week, before heading back, but depending on tide levels sometimes you stick to the prom. I was disappointed as I arrived and a sign told us we weren’t running on the beach today. I started off really strong, as first lady leading all the way until we were on the prom heading back. Then we hit the Sahara Desert! The wind had blown makeshift sandunes onto the prom path, and running through inches of soft sand absolutely drained my legs of energy. That last mile running out through the dunes, and then knowing I had to come back exactly the same way, felt like an eternity! I eventually finished 3rd lady in a time of 28:34 which tells you how tough it was that day, but I still chuckle about it now. I’d like to go back and try it when it’s on the beach and a bit easier to run on hard sand. I had a lovely coffee and a chat with Doug afterwards, and it’s always nice to be beside the seaside.

Croxteth Hall parkrun

I’d heard this was a quick course, and I had been PB hunting for a long time. This course did not disappoint. As I put my trainers on, getting out of the car, I realised I was wearing two left socks, perhaps not a good omen for a PB, but I jogged the short distance to the start and did a 10 minute warm up around the beautiful Croxteth Hall. We set off, and I tried to hit a good pace, which is easy when you still have the front runners in your sights. The course is lovely – along beautiful tree lined paths, glimpsing the hall each time you loop near. I can’t remember that much of it though to be honest as I was concentrating on my form and my cadence as I always do when trying to run fast. I crossed the line in a new PB and was thrilled!!

Cuerden Valley parkrun

I did Cuerden Valley parkrun in the spring, when the woods were alive with bluebells, and it was glorious. It’s a lapped course, with a different start and finish place, but you don’t really realise it’s lapped because the course is very undulating and interesting and it keeps you on your toes. This parkrun doesn’t seem to give you any respite; you are either running uphill, or taking advantage of a fast downhill, so there’s no break to recover really. It’s a stunning woodland course, so plenty of roots to look out for, and the uphill finish nearly finished me off! Beautiful course though, and really friendly team of marshalls.

Dalby Forest parkrun

You know you’re a proper parkrun tourist when you book a family camping weekend away, and the only criteria is that it is near to a parkrun. We settled on the beautiful Dalby Forest, and were not disappointed. A beautiful one lap course around the wooded valley. The facilities were great, with all the usual you would expect from the Forestry Commission; we even had the bonus of doing the Stickman trail with our daughter after parkrun and a hearty breakfast of course!


Delamere parkrun

I think wooded parkruns are my favourite kind of events; they’re so beautiful and interesting. Delamere parkrun did not disappoint. It is a lollipop shape, which incorporates a short out and back at the start and finish, with a lap of the lake in the middle. There’s even a bonus gruffalo on the route – look out for him! A decent amount of parking, with a cafe and toilets on site, and a short walk to the start.

Gainsborough parkrun

Neither Dan nor I liked this event the first time we visited because it’s the hardest course we’ve done. It’s three laps starting from the leisure centre with an uphill start and an uphill finish – really! – with a lot of it on grass. It feels interminable. We tackled it initially with our toddler in the buggy and the dog for company – big mistake – and it took us nearly two years to gear ourselves up to go back (empty handed the next time) and while we still found it tough, I knocked over 9 minutes off that original course PB. It’s still not what I would class as a PB course, with 7 hills up and down although the small field makes it attractive for a good placing and you will always get a warm welcome. Worth a visit and great cross country training.

Haigh Woodland parkrun

I love this event. It’s set in the beautiful Haigh Woodland in Wigan and is a one lap course. The first half is downhill, which means the second half is all uphill, so do be prepared for that, but it is a beautiful setting.

Humber Bridge parkrun

I took my daughter in her buggy, and the dog with me to this event so I wasn’t expecting a quick time – I was there for the tourism with some friends. What I wasn’t expecting however was just how muddy it would be. My buggy needed mudguards, and by the end of it I was covered with a spattering of mud but what a fun course. It’s 3 laps, but what a beautiful route. Set deep in the valley of Humber Bridge country park, this parkrun is really easy to get to straight off the Humber Bridge, with lots of parking. There’s also a pub just round the corner which does a fantastic breakfast!

Knowsley parkrun

I confess I headed to Knowsley because I was desperate for a 1st place finish (sad, I know!) and I knew it was a small event, being so new, and a relatively easy course. It’s two laps, and it appeared I was on good form as I placed first lady, and 8th overall, so I was not disappointed. The team is really friendly, and I had a nice chat with them afterwards. My tourist cow cowl also always proves a nice icebreaker when I’m at an event on my own.

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Lincoln parkrun

My home parkrun, although not my original home (which was Newark). Lincoln is the place I feel most at home and know the most people, so it was naturally the event I chose to celebrate my 100th parkrun at in early 2017. I’ve been parkrunning at Lincoln almost since it opened, but because I love touring, I probably average a Lincoln parkrun maybe once every 6-8 weeks. It’s a fast course, but it is 3 laps around Boultham lake and through the woods, and because of the numbers of runners it now attracts, it can be difficult to run at your full potential, especially on laps two and three. That said, my current PB is held at Lincoln although I will, as always, try to break it elsewhere whenever I find myself at a fast, flat parkrun. Lincoln has a great core team who volunteer most weeks, and a real friendly, community feel. It’s worth a visit if you’re PB hunting – just be sure to start at the front so you can get across that first bridge without having to walk.


Melton Mowbray parkrun

I’ve been to do this parkrun a few times now as it’s a great challenging event, set in the beautiful Melton country park. The challenge is in the hill, which you have to summit twice, but in return you have a fantastically fun downhill. I’ve only ever done this event with pre-schooler, buggy, and dog in tow, so I’m not sure whether it’s a quick parkrun or not as I can’t compare it fairly, however it is certainly great fun! Go and try it!


Newark parkrun

The first parkrun I ever did, 3 years ago when my daughter was tiny as we had just started to use the running buggy. As course go, Newark is pretty tough I think. It starts downhill, does a loop through the woods, up some steps, around a field, across a field, then back to the start of the loop which you complete twice more before heading back to the start for an uphill finish. It took me ages to crack this parkrun and achieve a time I’m relatively happy with, as I find the wooded section and the steps really slow me down, but that’s a very personal thing to me I think. What I really like the most about Newark is Sconce and Devon park, which has lovely play areas for our daughter and a cafe where we can sit outside with the dog to enjoy a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea afterwards. Free, though limited, parking too.

Pennington Flash parkrun

I had put this parkrun off for a while as I knew it was three laps, but others had told me it was worth a visit. As I drove into the carpark on a hot June morning, to views of the lake, I inwardly cursed myself at never having visited this beauty spot before. The carpark cost £1.20, then it was a short walk to the finish area. When it was time to start, everyone walked slowly back a short way up the path towards the car park, then turned around, ready to go. It was a cramped start area and took me maybe 10 seconds from the gun to get running, but once running it was open clear paths with grass either side. The route is lollipop shaped, so out from the start, then three loops, then back to the finish. The loop contains what I would refer to as two hills although in reality they’re short slopes, and it is all on gravel paths and grass. Stunning views of the flash from the top of the second hill and a nice fast downhill finish. I loved it! Really friendly too.

Penrhyn parkrun

When in Wales for the weekend, it would be rude not to find the nearest parkrun! We were staying in Anglesey, so we were only half an hour away from beautiful Penrhyn castle in Bangor. The course was a shock! Two large laps, and two small laps, all involving the same uphill. I don’t even remember a downhill to be honest, because that uphill was tough, but the start and finish inside the castle ground made up for it! A stunning setting, with the castle as a backdrop, and views across the sea. Loved it!

Peterborough parkrun

An hour is about the maximum we’ll drive to do a parkrun in the morning, and Peterborough is pretty much at that limit. I had arranged to meet Adam, Holly and Nat from Twitter as Peterborough was in the middle for us all, and I had visited Ferry Meadows country park before and was expecting a lovely enjoyable parkrun. I was disappointed to be honest. It’s a very busy parkrun, and has too many people for the type of course (around 500 runners). On a one or two lap course, these numbers wouldn’t be an issue, but the course at Peterborough involves quite a long out and back along a narrow path. One runner nearly tripped over my dog on the out and back section (sorry, but she was under control, there just wasn’t much room!) and a runner (wearing headphones) ran into the buggy Dan was pushing. Nobody was hurt thankfully, but it turned what should have been an enjoyable run into a stressful one as we couldn’t run at our own pace. The event also could do with additional finish funnels and more barcode scanners because the queues at the end were quite long. I understand the organisers have recently changed the course due to losing a bridge which used to provide access to another part of the lake, but the out and back isn’t ideal in my opinion. Otherwise, a beautiful and picturesque course, good value parking, and great facilities at the country park, including access to the Nene Valley steam railway.

Phoenix parkrun

Attending an inaugural parkrun is a tourist’s dream, and they’re generally not advertised because new events don’t want to be inundated with tourists as most teams like a few weeks to get the hang of things. I am kind of local to Phoenix in that my mum lives nearby so I am often in the area of a weekend, so a few months of keeping my ear close to the ground about Phoenix, and its first event coincided with a weekend I was visiting mum. The day dawned rainy, but it was still a busy first event. Parking is at Norton Priory, so the walk to the start takes around 10 minutes, so I arrived early, with enough time to also have a jog around to warm my legs up. The course is two and a half laps, and the park is built on a slope, with the bottom section on the canal, and the top section on the edge of busway. I think this picture says it all to be honest – this was taken on what I think was the second of three times climbing the hill, but I actually recorded a pretty decent time for me. I loved the section along the canal, and the hill was certainly a challenge. I’ll be back to do that one again.


Rosliston parkrun

Review coming soon

Rushcliffe parkrun

Rushcliffe parkrun wins my vote hands down for best place to visit as a family. Set in the beautiful Rushcliffe country park, the parkrun is a popular event (over 400 runners the day we did it) but with two laps around the wide open spaces of the park it only really felt busy at the start until we got to the other side of the lake. Some small undulations, but I would say this is a great PB course. What I really like about this parkrun however is how much there is to do as a family afterwards. There is a little cafe in the rangers office where runners can get a tea or coffee afterwards, and the park itself is full of so many activities for the little ones; play park, sandpit, nature trails, sensory area and the Great Central Railway is just next door (5 minute walk) with model trains and a preserved working steam train offering rides to Loughborough and back. Car parking is at a minimum but certainly good value at £1 donation. Well worth a visit.  

Rushmere parkrun

Dan liked this one, but it was his 50th parkrun. The route took us through stunning, undulating woodland. It is an absolutely beautiful course, soft underfoot mostly and I would recommend trail shoes. We also had a cracking breakfast in the café afterwards, although I was a bit puzzled why they served everything on paper plates.

Rutland Water parkrun

Dan said this was his least favourite parkrun because the route was boring. I personally am not a fan of out and back routes either, but being right on the lakeside, the views are incredible! You run out along the dam too, on a nice day I’m sure it’s stunning but the day we visited it was pouring down with rain. A very fast, flat course.

Sherwood Pines parkrun

I visited the inaugural event for Sherwood Pines, and loved it so much I’ve been back quite a few times. The best thing about this course is that it’s one lap and all through beautiful forest. The worst thing is that there are quite a few hills; that said it’s a quick course. One of my local favourites. The event now has its own carpark where runners can park for free.

Warrington parkrun

This is a fast course as it’s nice and flat, consisting of a small loop from the start, a long out along the path to the canal, a loop around a field, back down the path to the park, then a final loop before the finish. The wide path doesn’t create problems on the out and back, and the course is flat as a pancake. This course remained unbeaten as my overall PB for a long time. Very friendly too and great cakes at the end! Well worth a visit.

Watergrove parkrun, Rochdale

I had been wanting to do this parkrun for a while as I had heard it called “the toughest parkrun in the UK” so I had to try it. I chose it as part 1 of our first ever NYD double, and it started at 8:30am which would give us chance to get to Burnley parkrun afterwards. New Years Day 2017 dawned grey and cold and sleety. By the time we eventually found the reservoir, along deserted country roads, we walked the short way to the start from the car and wondered just how crazy we were, as the wind howled around us. I had drawn straws to run with the dog, so we set off, straight up the first hill. The views were spectacular, even in the grey weather, and I stopped to take it in at the top of the first climb. We then turned around, ran back the way we came, and once at the bottom climbed another hill on the opposite side of the valley. The wind and rain were now blowing straight into our faces, the dog was looking at me like I was a mentalist, making us run in this weather, and once Dan ran past us on his descent, of course the dog tried to follow him, so it took a bit of cunningness to coax her up the hill, to complete our climb, but with whistles and whoops and calls of “who’s that?” and “catsssss” she played along and we could turn around at the top and start our fast descent with a nice tailwind, although the cobbles were a little slippery in the wet so we were still a little reserved in our speed. All in all a really lovely parkrun that I’d like to try again in warmer, drier weather. And I even got to meet hill running legend @jdcnorden at last.

Widnes parkrun

I’ve done this event a few times now as it’s the closest parkrun to my mum’s and very handy if I just want to roll out of bed and have a ten minute jog to the start. The course is three and a half laps around a small park and it’s very flat so is a fast course but I think the mental aspect of running round and round and round means I can’t seem to break through that 24 minute barrier there. It’s a friendly course but not a particularly exciting or scenic one. Last time I ran it, I met @brsh123 there, who kind of dragged me round to a course PB to be honest. Thanks buddy!

Witton parkrun

Dan really enjoyed this one. Very nice course, and very friendly which to be honest is a feature of all the north west parkruns we have done. It’s a two lap course, and we had heard it was hilly, but the hill was like running up a cliffside! My lungs were burning as I really didn’t used to like hills at all, but the course was beautiful and varied. I’d love to go back to this one now I’m fitter and have a crack at a faster time.

Worsley Woods parkrun

I had chosen this course for New Year’s Eve because it was billed as flat and fast, plus it’s a woodland course so it sounded scenic. I had however put too much pressure on myself to run a PB (which at the time was held at Croxteth Hall at 23:36). It was easy to find and there was plenty of free parking near to the start. After a brief warm up, we set off at a fast pace. Dan had the dog running alongside him, and I felt fine for the first half a kilometre but I had set off too fast. After around 1.5km, the course begins to loop around the woods, which for some reason slowed me down to around 10 mins per mile. I’m not sure what happened, but the soft ground beneath my feet slowed me down, as did the slight inclines, and I felt HORRIBLE. I even had a shout at Dan at one point (sorry!) and told him to run on ahead which he reluctantly did. Eventually we got back into the wide path, and headed back the way we had come, where I was able to pick up the pace again and finish in 24:22. I was very disappointed in myself that day. I would however like to go back and see what I can do at that parkrun now my head is in a better place.

 

Be brave, take risks: why I’m racing 100km to the stones

A wise man once said, “You will never be able to escape your heart, so it is better to listen to what it has to say.” (Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist)

Which is why, in a little over 3 weeks time, I’ll be in a field somewhere in the Chiltern hills ready to put one foot in front of the other and cover 100 kilometres along one of the country’s ancient footpaths. My destination? The ancient stone circle at Avebury. Why? Well, this is the big question, isn’t it. I’m not sure of the answer to that yet, but I know I’m supposed to do it. Events over the last 3 years have somehow been leading me to this moment, or maybe there’s something else even bigger over the next hill, so I’m going to trust in myself and give it my best.

Currently, especially in the heat of the past few weeks, I am feeling inadequate and unprepared, especially when I look at the weekly mileage some of my ultra training peers are putting in, and I wonder, can I really do this? Can I really run 100 kilometres in one go? And why am I even putting myself through this? The thing is, I know it’s going to hurt. I know there will be (many) moments on that ancient Ridgeway path next month where I will question my sanity and my motivation so I’m delving deep inside now to think about why I have accepted this challenge.

The truth is, Race to the Stones was not in the plan this year. In fact there wasn’t even a plan to do an ultra at all, but somehow the universe has conspired to test me, and I’m not sure why. I have had a lasting urge to try ultra distance shortly after swearing “Never again” after my first marathon in London only 3 years ago. It’s as though the universe wants me to keep going because shortly after uttering those words, I didn’t enter the London Marathon ballot, but in the October, shortly after the ballot results had been announced, I received a tweet from the London Marathon to say I had won a place in the 2015 event. I genuinely couldn’t turn it down – it was meant to be. So I ran it, and since then I have wondered how far I could go, but had never been brave enough to take that step. I wasted last year “trying to improve my 10k time”, so this year I decided to take the plunge and see whether I fared better when racing long distance, so I entered Manchester Marathon, and finally decided to enter that ultra while I was already marathon fit. It turns out I still hate marathon distance but I managed to go sub 4 hours which I was thrilled at. The eye was still on the big prize of 40 miles at the Dukeries Ultra in May. (A huge thanks to UKRunChat and Breathe Unity PR for making both of these events happen for me by the way.) You can read all about my Dukeries experience here, but I will say although it hurt, it left me wondering if I can do that, what else am I capable of?

Four days before Dukeries, a really strange thing happened. I was on a run with Jason @outrunninghills who was preparing for Race to the Stones, and we were talking about our dream races. Race to the Stones has been on my want-to-do list for a while – I remember seeing images which @ChallengeSophie had posted when she took part in it a few years ago and they really inspired me. I also remember her saying how it was the hardest thing she had ever done. Without belief in myself however, it seemed a very extravagant outlay, so I had not entered and had no plans to do it this year. That same day I was telling Jason it was my dream race however, later in the afternoon, something really strange happened. An email arrived from the PR company for the event sponsors asking would I like to take part in it. Of course, I HAD to say yes! So I agreed to join the Dixons Carphone team and do the 100km option. The universe really is always listening. I took this offer as a sign that I’m meant to do this which is why I’m not too worried about those niggly self-comparisons my conscious mind keeps making as I read about my social media peers’ training. The crucial thing is that everybody responds differently to training. I seem to take a long time to recover from long distances (20+ miles), but I can happily do 2-3 runs per day to get my mileage in, so I’m doing what feels right and trusting in my own body, as I know it will get me through on the day.


The wonderful team at @CurrysPCWorld have provided me with a load of tech to help with my training, for which I am very grateful, and with the big event only just over 3 weeks away I am getting excited about fulfilling a dream I’ve had for the past few years. I am confident that I will complete Race to the Stones. My plan is to set off at a sensible pace, and make sure I stay well hydrated and fuelled. I have had the opportunity to thoroughly test my fuelling strategy of Tailwind and regular snacks and as long as I don’t give into temptation to sit down at that midway 50km checkpoint, I know my legs will let me carry on.

I’m excited about the opportunity to take part in this iconic event, and I’m most excited to find out where this may lead me to next.


What’s your dream race? I’d love to hear from you.

Sea, sand, sunshine and sport in Sardinia

You might think a review of our family holiday is a little out of place on a running and coaching blog, but having just arrived home from the best active holiday I’ve ever been on, I felt compelled to share it with you all. 

My husband and I had been on a Neilson beach club holiday a couple of years before our daughter was born – in Adekoy, Turkey – and I remember seeing a couple of families there, with their little ones in kids club. Baia dei Mori, on the island of Sardinia, seemed a natural choice for our first proper family holiday somewhere hot. 
Neilson Holidays traditionally offer skiing holidays, as well as many beach club holidays in Turkey and Greece. Italy and Croatia are new locations for them, and they seem to be partnering up with existing hotel chains to renovate their resorts and rebrand them as Neilson. Baia dei Mori is one such partnership, between Neilson and Studio Vacanza – a large family-owned Italian hotel business and when we arrived, the resort was in its third week of operation. The resort is nestled in a quiet bay in Northeast Sardinia, sheltered on both sides by a headland to the west, and a spit of land to the east. The island of Tavolara sits in the bay to the north, offering some protection from the cold alpine winds but the cold, squally Tremontana wind does occasionally blow in from the French alps, usually anticipated by a large ominous cloud settled on the top of Tavolara. The resort boasts a great pool, tennis courts, fitness platform in the forest, a spa, and a lovely beach which is shared with the public from the local village. It seems the newness of the resort and Italian bureaucracy are currently at loggerheads about how much of the beach Neilson can use to store its large fleet of sailing dinghies ranging in size from tiny Picos up to a few catamarans. There is currently a 350 metre stretch which Neilson is allowed to use to store such kit, but the Italian salvataggi (lifeguards) are very strict if they see a Neilson sunlounger on the public beach area and will remove it. Neilson are still working hard to manage this relationship and the solution at the moment is for them to keep a stock of sunchairs at the resort beach entrance for their customers to use on the public beach area, which seems to be acceptable to the Italians. 

We chose a Neilson beach club holiday because the kids club provision is so great that it meant we could indulge in the full range of the activities on offer, which include sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding (SUP), swimming, running, road biking, mountain biking, pétanque, tennis, and a whole range of fitness including yoga, Pilates, HIIT, circuits, Zumba, aquarobics and even Supfit (core exercises on a paddle board out in the bay). Many people come just for the sailing or the tennis coaching; I’ll be honest, I was there for sunshine, pizza and gelato but I did intend to find something active to do every day.


My first point of call was actually the road bike, for an exploratory ride out to explore medieval Posada down the road, a beautiful medieval walled town clinging to a hillside. The bikes, helmets and cycling gloves are always available for you to take out wherever you wish. The guides ensured we chose the correct fitting bike, adjusted our saddles, and gave us a repair kit and a pump before suggesting a route for us. I’m not particularly confident on a road bike because I don’t really have a lot of experience, so cycling up the hill to get out of the resort was interesting! 


Posada itself is beautiful: we got a few funny looks off locals as we carried our bikes (no bike locks to secure them!) along narrow cobbled streets, and up and down steep staircases to explore, and were in turn rewarded with sea views around every corner. 


My husband describes this holiday as idyllic. I asked him what his favourite moment of the holiday was, and he said taking our 4 year old daughter out on a Dart which he had learned to sail the day before was the highlight. 
For me, seeing her throw herself into new activities with kids club was magical. She sampled most of the activities open to the adults in her group of 9 Sea Badgers (ages 4-6), with the exception of windsurfing and cycling. They often spent the morning on the beach, letting them experience sailing and get comfortable on the water, interspersed with lots of craft, play, singing and silly games. The kids club staff are amazing – they are so enthusiastic, and each day’s programme is carefully thought out into themes such as pirates, jungle, circus or superheroes, with activities to suit. I hadn’t expected our daughter to settle so easily into kids club, but the staff are clearly very experienced at making the youngsters feel at ease so when I dropped her off on the first day, the children went straight in building Lego. I asked her if I could leave her there for an hour to play. She nodded and told me to pick her up later. “After lunch?” I enquired. “LATER later!” That’s me told. On most days kids club is open from 9:30 until 5:30 and they will take the children for lunch and high tea at 5pm, but you can sign them in and out whenever you want to. We didn’t get to spend any time with our daughter for the entirety of Sunday and Monday, because she was having so much fun at kids club! Luckily, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Neilson operate a different timetable for its kids club which open from 2:30pm all the way through until 11pm, to enforce some valuable family time, and also to give grown ups the opportunity for an evening alone on the non inclusive nights, when the children can opt to stay for sleep club. We opted for a short walk up the hill on one of these nights to a restaurant with beautiful views across the bay. We collected the little one around 9:45 from sleep club; I will never forget the sound of creeping into a room full of snoring children fast asleep on camp beds. It was the cutest thing I have ever seen. How the staff got 15 under-6s to sleep is a mystery! 

Let me just talk about the food for a moment before I wax lyrical about the activities. There is so much food on a Neilson holiday, I don’t think I’ll need to eat again for the whole of June. Breakfast, lunch and 4 evening meals per week are included and they are all buffet style. Our resort being Italian, the food was very much designed to be taken in 4 courses – antipasti (usually cold meats, cheeses and salad as well as many hor d’oervres), primi (usually pasta and the most amazing pizza made by a chef who experimented daily with toppings), secondi (meat and veg) followed by dolci which was a whole range of Italian desserts. Breakfast was a full range of continental or English style cooked breakfast. Neilson have brought in two English chefs to ensure the food isn’t TOO Italian for British tastes but there was a great range of local delicacies including plenty of seafood. On the non inclusive nights, there are plenty of local restaurants to dine at, or the restaurant at the resort offers a limited menu. 


So what of the activities? On boarding the coach to the resort, you are given the week’s timetable and encouraged to plan ahead to which activities you would like to do, as some need booking onto at the welcome meeting at the resort, such as the RYA sailing courses and the windsurfing courses. The group bike rides also tend to get booked up quickly, as do the boats for the regattas so make those a priority if you’re interested. With the cycling, they only allow you to book onto one group ride at the welcome meeting to give everyone a chance to get on at least one, but I never had an issue getting onto any of the group mountain bike rides. I guessed the group rides on roads were more popular, and these ranged in distance and difficulty from 20km on relatively flat and roads up to 70km in the neighbouring hills. All the rides were graded a bit like ski runs, from blue through to black. Tennis groups were graded in a similar manner. I joined two group mountain bike outings and really enjoyed them both. One afternoon I headed out for a mountain bike ride to Porto Ottiolu in the north. Mountain biking on soft sand is even tougher than running on it but this was a nice introduction to riding on the trails. It was a real treat seeing wild flamingos in a lagoon. The social ride was such good fun as everybody was so friendly and the guide regularly made the group wait to let everyone catch up. Thanks to the lady who bought me a beer at our cafe stop as it hadn’t occurred to me to bring any cash! Later in the week I had another mountain bike ride booked during the afternoon to Posada again, but this time on trails. The route was absolutely stunning, taking us along beaches, through forests, and along more of Sardinia’s beautiful trails. 


I also attended the 7:30am run club on a few occasions. On the Monday, one of the fitness girls Josie led a group run on a beautiful 4.5 mile run mostly on trails and along the beach, but the idea for the rest of the week was that the group would meet without a guide and sort out a route between themselves. It worked pretty well as some people who had been there the week before knew plenty more routes. 


My husband and I joined a group kayak safari around the headland to a neighbouring beach one morning. As with the all the group activities, it was a very friendly, sociable outing. For the rest of the week we just dipped in and out of various activities as we wished. 


Neilson’s tag line – “Relax as hard as took want” – really makes a lot of sense. I had DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) when I got up on the final morning – that’s when you know it’s been a great active holiday! 


The Neilson staff could not have been more helpful. The beach staff spent their days rigging boats, and carrying kit back and to at the whim of the holiday makers. They also took safety very seriously, insisting on safety boats out on the water, and people wearing life jackets. It meant that we felt safe enough to let our daughter get out on kayaks, paddleboards, dinghies and even a catamaran, knowing we were being supervised closely. For anyone looking to learn new skills, novices can spend a few days doing an RYA qualification or gain specialist coaching in windsurfing, swimming or tennis. 


I think I wished so hard that I didn’t have to come home after just a week, that we ended up spending an extra night in Olbia – albeit due to circumstances beyond our control when British Airways’ (the charter flight operators out of Heathrow) IT systems crashed which meant our flight, along with many others, cancelled. British Airways treated us perfectly, putting us up in a hotel overnight, but Neilson were the stars of the show here. Considering they had safely delivered us to the airport and made sure we all checked in for our original flight, we were technically the responsibility of the airport and the airline, but the resort manager Frosty sent staff over to look after us immediately on hearing about the cancellations, to see us safely to hotels nearby overnight, and stayed up all night making sure they found out news about our rescheduled departure and saw us safely back to the airport the morning after. Top notch service above and beyond what was expected of them. 


We’ll definitely be holidaying with Neilson again – we’re already eyeing up their Croatia resort for next time!

We stayed at the Baia dei Mori resort in Sardinia.

The winds of change 

It was with a heavy heart today that I tendered my resignation as chair of my running club. This is a club I have put my heart and soul into over the past 7 years to nurture it from an idea, into the established club it is today. I have lived and breathed it every day. Indeed, it has also been the cause of anguish and heartache as a stake was driven through its very heart – and by proxy, mine – but it survived. We survived, and we’ve come out stronger. It lives on, because its members believe in it. I’m proud of what we have achieved over the years, but it’s time to move on. My life is taking me elsewhere, to new adventures and I am excited for what they may bring. 

So what has my experience of starting a running club taught me? I’ve learned that when people come together voluntarily for a common good, amazing things happen. Lifelong friendships are made. Sometimes love even blossoms. Through trial and error I have learned important things about race management, people and communication skills, public relations, conflict management, accounts, fundraising, and of course coaching skills. I’ve realised that you can’t please all of the people all of the time and that trying to make everybody happy is a recipe for disaster. Most importantly I’ve learned that just because you created something, it doesn’t make it yours. Such projects are too big for one individual, and it has taken me a long time to move on from wearing every committee hat, to trust others with the fragile entity I had nurtured protectively for so long and step back. Mostly volunteers have good intentions, but sometimes these can get confused and intertwined with their own needs and that is usually where conflict arises. Recognising and managing that is the most important part of keeping a club alive as happy members are what keeps a club living and breathing. 

I would like to think I have contributed to a legacy of hope and friendship and an ideology that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Our club was conceived amidst four friends, to help people get out and get active and make friends. This notion floated out softly on the breath of easy conversation during a country walk one summer evening, like a dandelion seed exploring new horizons, flying and somersaulting in the breeze, and it could have easily drifted away on that same puff of air, and disappeared forever. However, this particular seed was planted and once its roots grew into the ground, it continued to spread its seed as it was reborn time and again, each time, its direction shifting. Because that is the tricky thing about a club; however hard you try to control its direction, it will evolve to become what it needs to be. The seed originally grew as a social running club, completely free and with no ties, like that dandelion seed. Sometimes the seed falls to the ground and hibernates for a while; there was a short time in the early days when the club simply stopped functioning because such intense commitment can prove burdensome and some people cannot give their all so they walk away. But water the seed, and something magical happens. Roots grow, affiliation happens, but fees and costs and committees and bureaucracy come with that. It takes a lot of effort to nurture a young plant. You have to stop the slugs from eating it. You have to protect it from the extremes of weather. As that plant grows however, it becomes stronger, less dependent, easier to look after, and eventually releases new seeds that plant themselves elsewhere and new ideas develop: track meets, cross country teams, social groups, races, events. Inevitably this constant change can be unsettling to some, but once you accept that change is the nature of the plant, indeed of life itself, you learn to embrace it. Seven years on, the club is an established entity that now has deep roots in the ground. For that I am proud. 

I walk away with a heavy heart at leaving an old friend, but my head held high because I know it’s time for me to move on. The club has a strong future, being lead by people who care about it. It may change direction in the future, as those winds of change lift it, but I wish it all the best. 

As for me, I already have many seeds planted elsewhere, so I’m off to water the ground to see what I can grow in pastures new.