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.

Some truths about becoming an ultra runner

I haven’t talked at all on my blog about training for an ultra. I have just completed my first ever ultra marathon, and although I never doubted for a moment I could do it, it hasn’t really been the focus of my training this year (Manchester marathon was instead) so this became a bit of fun (!) instead. 

With Jeanette after 7 miles, just as the 30 and 40 routes parted

I chose a 40 miler because I have completed several marathons now and although 50k (31 miles) seems a nice introduction to ultrarunning, for me it just didn’t seem to present that much of a challenge so I wanted something a bit more scary.

Everyone feeling fresh in the first couple of miles

Dukeries 40 turned out to be my date with ultra destiny. It’s local (30 minutes up the road) and it winds through a beautiful area of Nottinghamshire called the Dukeries, which comprises various estates including Welbeck, Thoresby, Sherwood Forest and Clumber Park. It’s an area I’ve wanted to run in for a while, so this event seemed the perfect opportunity, plus the 40 mile option went through Sherwood Forest and right past Major Oak so that was the choice for me. 

A Major Oak selfie, 10 miles in

So what did I discover about ultra running?

  1. 40 miles is a very long way. My legs began to mistrust me at around 22 miles, and when I kept running beyond marathon distance, they freaked out and didn’t really want to work for me. That said, they carried me another 15 miles, so good work legs!  
    Ultra running’s simple pleasures
  2. It’s a very friendly, encouraging community. Runners I caught up with, or who caught up with me, often stayed a while for a chat and everyone asked how I was when they went past. The marshalls were also amazing!!! They couldn’t do enough for me. 
    Ran with Nic for around 15 miles
  3. At 33 miles, a jam sandwich and a cup of tea taste absolutely divine. Simple pleasures really matter. 
  4. I didn’t get bored of running or of my own company, particularly in the latter stages of the event. I really thought I would start to annoy myself after a while, but I quite enjoyed the peace and quiet. 
  5. Ultra running is a brilliant way to see more trails in the laziest way possible. When I say lazy, I mean you still have to run the distance of course, but for someone like me whose internal compass is a little wonky, events like this take the stress and brain power out of navigating. The course was brilliantly marked with red and white tape every few metres, and yellow arrows and dots. All you have to do is follow the markers, and then every 7-10 miles there is a gazebo underneath which you’ll find all manner of sweet and savoury goodies to eat and drink.  
    Descending down into Creswell Crags
  6. Time and distance warp when completing an ultra. At the beginning, the miles clock over really quickly, even though you’re running at a slower pace. Close to the aid stations, distances seem to stretch, and near to the finish, every mile feels like an extra marathon which takes an eternity to complete. 
    An endless, lonely footpath
  7. You don’t have to run it all. In fact, it’s encouraged to walk sections, especially up hills. 
  8. Never underestimate the restorative power of a bath full of Epsom salts afterwards.
  9. You’ll immediately want to complete another. Even while running it, as your hips and knees scream in pain, and you’re questioning your own sanity, you’ll be wondering how much further you can push yourself and planning your next adventure. Just remember, even though all your friends and family think you’re crazy for doing this, take solace in the fact that there’s always somebody crazier than you. Yesterday for example, I spent mile 36 with a man looking to take on a 184 mile foot race along the Thames later this year. 
  10. The finish feels a bit of an anticlimax because you get so caught up in the ‘doing’, that even though you’re hurting, once it’s over you’re disappointed that the moment (or hours) have gone. I was relieved to finish yesterday of course, but I run because I enjoy the act of running, not to complete events. 

So a few questions remains:

Did I enjoy it? 

I enjoyed the scenery, the cameraderie, the chatter, the adventure, the feeling of being out in nature doing something to test my own limits. That’s a powerful feeling and gives immense satisfaction. When my watch hit 30 miles, I chuckled to myself because whether I completed the event or not, it didn’t matter; I had become an ultra runner. Those last 10 miles oddly didn’t feel as tough as the few miles after marathon distance, which were the longest miles of my life. Lime Tree Avenue goes on forever by the way. Well, actually a couple of miles, but it felt endless.

The breathtakingly beautiful Lime Tree Avenue

Would I do another?

Probably. Yes. Watch this space.  

Stunning bluebells in quiet woodland

Can anyone run an ultra?

Of course. Once you believe you can do something, you’ll do it. It’s all about toughness of mind. The body hurts, but your mind simply has to tell it to keep going. I talk out loud to myself. I also posted a few videos on Instagram yesterday which gave me a boost and allowed me to talk honestly about how I was feeling to those watching. I also downed a cup of cola which gave me a stitch and made me forget about the pain in my knees for a good few miles. I passed some runners listening to music, which isn’t something I do myself but I can understand how it’s a good distraction. I ran with a few people for a chat to distract myself. Your mind just has to find a way to make the pain shrink down to become insignificant and you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Creswell Crags


What I ate:

  • 4 Tailwind stick packs 
  • One Snickers bar
  • Two chocolate brownies
  • 1 Eat Natural bar
  • 4 gingernut biscuits 
  • So many jellybeans I lost count 
  • 12 flies (give or take a few)
  • Some cherry tomatoes (inspired!)
  • 1 x Jam and 2 x peanut butter sandwiches
  • 1 cup of tea 

What else would you rather be doing on a Saturday?

Kit:


  • Mobile phone (the only mandatory bit of kit)
  • Montane Via Fang race vest with 2x 500ml soft flasks filled with Tailwind. 
  • Ron Hill waterproof jacket in case of rain or wind (I didn’t wear this in the end.
  • Inov-8 merino wool socks. No blisters and I also knew they dry quickly if they get wet.
  • adidas raven boost trail shoes 

My stats:

Distance covered: 40.3 miles

Total time: 8:26:39 (inc CPs)

Total moving time: 7:59:34

Position: 82/105 finishers

Elevation: 1500ft

Thanks are due to Ronnie Staton of Hobo Pace Events for putting on such an excellent, well organised event, and to everyone who gave up their time to marshall, and help keep tired runners fuelled, hydrated and motivated. Thanks to Nick who drove me to the start and gave me encouragement that I could do it. Thanks to Jeanette and Nic for company en route. Thank you to my friends, and my Twitter and Instagram communities for the messages of support throughout the day – they really kept me going. Special thanks to Dan for his endless patience with this lasting urge I have to test my limits. Seeing you, Allegra and Bella at mile 31 meant the world, and running the last few hundred metres to cross the finish line with Allegra was unforgettable. Love you all.

My little homecoming pacemaker

Gorilla Hunting – Oswestry Half Marathon Race Review

I was excited about the Oswestry Half, because it’s always nice to be able to run an inaugural event. It was also the half marathon I was working towards with Celia, who I had been coaching towards her first ever half marathon, after we ran her first 10k event in September.

This race wasn’t about a PB for me, because I had planned to run it with Celia, providing her support, so I can’t comment on its suitability as a PB course; however, apart from the short section across grass and stones, the course was all on flat roads, with one short, insignificant hill between mile 6 and 7.

Oswestry Gorilla

However, let’s rewind to earlier in the morning. The race was based at the British Ironwork Centre, just outside Oswestry. It was easy to find, just off the A5, and there was a marshall directing traffic into the centre. We parked on a well-marshalled field, and within minutes I was in the race village where I could see a well organised registration tent (I checked my number on the board, and had collected my number within seconds), a tent filled with around 20 physios providing pre-race massages, a baggage tent, a pop up cafe, vans selling pizza and crepes (I made a mental note to visit them after the race), some trade stands, plenty of seating, plus a stage with the trophies and medals on, and around 30 portaloos which were clean and well stocked with loo roll and alcohol gel. It was just after 8am, with the race due to start at 9:30am, so with none of the anticipated queues, I had over an hour to spare, so I found Celia, and we sat down and had a cup of tea while we chatted about how training had gone, and our strategy and expectations for the race ahead. A very nice, relaxed start to the race.

Just after 9am, the announcer advised that Amy Hughes (@53marathons) would be doing the warm up at the stage, so we headed over there and did some cardio and some lunges to warm our muscles up a little, then we headed over to the start area. There was a brass band playing, which was a lovely touch, and I spotted tailrunner Matt (@mattupston) then Mike (@ParkgateRunner) came over to say hello who I had been tweeting earlier in the morning. Then there was a countdown from 10, the cannon fired (yes really!) and we were over the start line within a minute. There were 1000 runners at this inaugural event, so I knew we would have plenty of space to run in, but I also suspected we may find some parts of the course lonely as the field naturally spread out, so I was glad I was running with Celia to help her along.

The first section was over a couple of fields to get out onto the lane behind the centre; the footing was a little uneven, and stony in places, so it was a relief to find the road under our feet so Celia could settle comfortably into her pace. My job today was keeping her company, making sure she was taking on adequate nutrition, and keeping her motivated in those final stages.

The first 4 miles were on quiet country lanes, and we would repeat these miles later in the opposite direction, after a loop of the town centre. Out of the country lanes, we headed into a housing estate where there was great support from the residents, and plenty of sweets on offer. We then headed into the town centre itself, where drivers were already getting impatient waiting for runners, and were sadly ignoring a lot of the marshalls, and driving around cones placed in the road. We ran on pavements a lot of the way through the town centre, as a few drivers were being very impatient, and the fact that the field was spread out at this point I think meant that marshalls couldn’t enforce road closures as well as they could with an obvious stream of runners. That said, they did a fantastic job of keeping us safe and I think the marshalls enforcing road closures always have the toughest job on a race as many people do get angry behind a wheel nowadays!

Onto the hill just after mile 6. It wasn’t too bad actually, it started gently inclining out of town, then got a bit steeper towards the top, then we turned into a housing estate for the final climb (with some great ladies cheering us on to the top), then we were downhill again, back into town to begin heading back.

Oswestry Half 10

All along the route, we had been spotting the unique mile markers along the way, so it was really nice to be able to see them from quite a way off. Eventually we found ourselves back on the road we had been on earlier at 9 miles and I breathed a sigh of relief at being away from the bustle of the town centre and back onto the quiet lanes. There was a brief out and back just after mile 11, to make the race distance up to half marathon, then we had a nice straight road back, which just left the two fields to cross.

  
We could see the finish from over half a mile away, and it was slightly uphill on grass to reach the actual line, but there was still plenty of support and cheering as we ran those final hundred yards or so. We each got an individual printout of our race results, then headed over to the race village to collect our goody bags, T-shirt (sadly only large size left by this point), and then the medals took a little bit of finding. The marshal at the goody bags had pointed us over to near the stage, where there was currently a presentation happening to the overall and age category winners, so the area was crowded with people and it wasn’t obvious where the medals where. In the end, I asked somebody wearing a medal where we collected them from, and she pointed to a little white iron gazebo, in front of which was standing a lady, rather inconspicuously. She handed us each a black box, and I have to say, we each uttered a “Wow” when we opened them to see a bright shiny gorilla shaped medal resting inside. I had seen pictures of the medal, but it was more stunning than I had imagined, and I am really not a ‘bling person’ – I’ll run a race for a cup of tea and a bowl of soup (see Grindleford Gallop blog) rather than a medal, but this will hang proudly on my medal hanger. It is special.

  

After the race, we ate guilt-free pizza and I had a quick wander around the British Ironwork Centre, which is an unusual and unique place, well worth a visit (also free entry), then I headed home to show off my new bling.  

 
All in all, a great first event . The only feedback I would give to change for next year would be to hand out medals immediately as runners finish, because that’s often the main reason people sign up to an event in the first place, so make that really special. EDIT: I’ve since heard that many runners received their medals up on stage, personally presented by the town mayor. A lovely personal touch, but it seems we arrived too late to be presented with our medals this way, which is a shame. The free photos are also fantastic quality – I had over 50 free images of myself taken and tagged. Overall, a great friendly-feeling event, well-marshalled, and no obvious issues.

Thank you to UKRunChat for the opportunity to run the first ever Oswestry Half.

Oswestry Half mile 10

Things I think about when I run a marathon

In the starting pen:
There’s the 3:58 pacer. I’ll stand by him and hope I can stick like glue to him for the race. (Looking around) I wonder which of us will hit 3:58 and which of us will blow up. I really hope I can do it because I don’t want to have to do another road marathon to get the sub 4. I could have done with another wee really but those portaloos at the start smelled disgusting. It’s just in my head. I’ll be ok.

(Mat from club finds me and asks if he can run with me to try to pace himself properly. It’s his first marathon.)

Phew, company! I really wasn’t looking forward to running this on my own. Mat’s much quicker than me though, I hope he doesn’t feel I’m too slow and I really don’t want to feel like I have to run quicker than I’ve planned. It’s ok, we’ll stay between the 3:58 and the 3:59 pacer.

 

Relieved to have found a running buddy in Mat

Shuffling slowly towards the start line:

It’s too claustrophobic. I am really not comfortable THIS close to SO many people. Hurry up people. Where’s the 3:58 pacer going?? He’s crossed the line already, we must be a minute behind already? He’s a pro, weaving in and out. Damn, watch has turned itself off waiting – hope I can find GPS again in time.


Crossing the start line:

Here’s goes. Don’t go too fast, stay disciplined. Stay ahead of the 3:59 pacer and we’ll be ok.

Mile 1: 8:59

That 3:58 pacer has shot off! He can’t be doing the right pace. Don’t worry, just keep an eye on watch pace and stick as close to 9 minute miling as we can.

Mile 2: 8:50

We’re a little ahead of pace but feeling comfortable, this is good.

Mile 3: 8:53

First loop done, there’s Old Trafford again and White City. Pacing going well, first 5k done in around 27 minutes.

Mile 4: 8:41

We’re heading out of the city now, head down and just keep counting those miles down. Water station. I don’t need a drink but have one anyway, few mouthfuls to rinse your mouth out. Keep hydrated, it’s pretty hot.

Mile 5: 8:57

Oops bit quick that last one. Slow it down a little, don’t want to blow up later on. I’d better take a gel. I don’t really need one but I’ve been running 40-odd minutes now so I’ll take one every 40 minutes to keep my carbs topped up.

Mile 6: 8:58

Really happy with this pace, it feels good. These Chorlton Runners are getting lots of shout outs. I haven’t had one yet but it’s the first marathon I haven’t had my name on my top as I remember it all getting a bit much at London. I guess my name on my number is pretty small.

Mile 7: 9:00

Whoop passed the first timing mat at 10k in 55:28. Only 20 miles to go! Feeling good and pace exactly where it should be. Oh look, I used to go into that pub as a student. Memories!! Are we in Sale already?

Mile 8: 8:52

Getting a tad quick again. Chat to a bloke who’s doing his first marathon in over ten years and hasn’t done any long runs. I really hope he does ok today.  Look out for Rick as he should be around here somewhere supporting. “He was back there” says Mat, didn’t you see me shout and wave to him? Oops, I’m clearly in the zone now, focusing inwardly.

Mile 9: 9:03

Wow the crowds here are amazing! It’s so loud! Whoop, first shout out! I heard a Shelly earlier but I know that wasn’t me. Why are my hips hurting? I run far longer distances than this, why am I in this much pain? It’s the bloody road, I knew there was a reason I stick to trail. Bloody tarmac and concrete IS bad for you. Just ignore the hips, I’ll be fine.

Mile 10: 9:02

A nice marker to hit. Only 10 miles plus another 10k to go. Wow are they sub 3 hour runners coming back towards us on the other side? I wonder how far in they are? Maybe half marathon? I’ll see if I can spot anyone I know. Oh there’s David, looking strong ahead of the 3:15 pacer. And there’s Daz looking comfortable just with the 3:30 pacer. Wow these runners look so comfortable at that pace – how do they do it? Ooh jelly babies, how nice. Yes please.

Mile 11: 9:00

Round the corner. Wow how long IS the loop until we head back? I’d better take another gel too. If I took one at 40 minutes, I’ll take another at 1 hour 20, a third at 2 hours then I’ll have run out for the second half of the race so I’ll have to remember to pick some more up from the fuel stations next time we pass one.

Mile 12: 8:52

Those Chorlton Runners keep overtaking us then dropping behind again. I need a Chorlton vest – they’re getting loads of support. Ok this feels like a hill. Who said this was flat. Push into it and get up there.

Mile 13: 8:45

Whew and back downhill. Go with gravity! What IS that noise? Oh it’s that lady with headphones on singing loudly. I don’t recognise the song. What’s the song? She’s clearly enjoying herself. Good on her.

Mile 14: 9:02

Through the half marathon point in 1 hour 55. I might actually be able to do this. We can count down to the finish now and we are actually heading back now.

Mile 15: 9:06

There’s a gel station coming up around the corner. I remember seeing it earlier. I’ll grab one as I’ll need more gels than the 3 I brought with me. I’ll take another of mine now. Oh there’s a guy walking backwards. Is he doing the whole marathon backwards? Wow.

Mile 16: 9:09

Ten miles to go! Woohoo. Well and a teeny bit.

Mile 17: 8:54

Wow I think I used to work there? Where am I? Yes I did, trip down memory lane back to when I was a student. Struggling here. I need to slow down a bit I think.

Mile 18: 9:02

(Mat decides to run on ahead and stretch his legs.) OK I don’t feel like I’m holding Mat back now but I’m worried I won’t have anyone to spur me on now. It’s ok, you can do this. Just keep going, keep the legs ticking over.

Mile 19: 9:12

“Hello, are you the Michelle off Twitter?” There’s a friendly looking chap who introduces himself to me as Paul. I suppose I am, yes. It’s nice to have some company again, I don’t like running on my own, and it helps to take my mind off the pain. After a while Paul waves me on as says I’m going a bit quicker than him. On my own again.

Mile 20: 9:23

Wow this bit is boring. And quiet. There are no spectators. I feel tired. My legs feel like they don’t belong to me. My back is hurting. I’ve still got an hour to go. Have another gel, then only another gel after that to go then I’ll be finished. Am I so bored I’m counting down the race in gels? Yes I am.

Mile 21: 9:14

3 hours for the first 20 miles. I’m on track for sub 4, got an hour to do 10k. Can I do this? Can I actually do this? Bearing in mind I’m now running like I’ve pooed myself because my hips are hurting? How much pain am I prepared to put myself through? I’m breaking out the shot blocks – if I do one a mile that will give me something to look forward to.

Mile 22: 9:55

Wow I am so bored now. Not enjoying this at all. If I stop and walk from here it’s only 5 miles and I could still do a quicker time than I did my last marathon in. Yeah, at least it’ll be a PB. Who cares about a sub 4 anyway? Am I that bothered? Drinks!! And gels! Sod it, I’m having a little walk while I have a drink. I’m melting. I’ll have my last gel now too. Ahhhh that not running feels so good. You idiot, you’re probably not going to be able to start running again now. You’ve totally just sabotaged your entire race. Why would you do that?
“I f***ing hate marathons” I say to the chap who’s also slowed to walk next to me. He agrees. Why do we do this to ourselves? He says he balances out his alcoholism with marathons. I sense he’s probably joking but I’m too tired to really know. Right, well the quicker we get to the finish line the quicker I can lie down and have a cry so let’s try running again. Ow. Yeah walking wasn’t the best idea, but the running is ok, just ignore the pain.

Mile 23: 9:26

Damn, that’s the 3:59 pacer just overtook me. Can I keep up with him? No. What pace must I be doing? I can’t look. It doesn’t matter. Let him go. I hate this marathon. Yes, lady at the side of the road, I hear you telling me to not let him out of my sight, but I’ve run over 20 miles, don’t you understand how exhausted I am? Have another shot block. That caffeine feels GOOD!

Mile 24: 9:31

Only 2 laps of parkrun to go. 20 minutes running. Come on, you can do this.
I hear a “Hello Michelle” and a chap named Gray introduces himself to me who recognises me off Twitter. “How are you doing?” he asks. Struggling now, I say. Just want to get finished. “Want to run together?” he asks. We can try, I say, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up with you. That self doubt has me in its evil grip. “I’ve just had a walk he says, but you look strong”. That’ll be the shot block I’ve just had, I say. I don’t feel it, but I run anyway. I feel tired and nauseous and I’m aching to stop running. I appreciated that chat even though it was brief. With those words in my head I run on.

Mile 25: 9:09

Something’s gripped me and I’ve sped up a little. I’m overtaking lots of runners and seem to have lost my new running buddy but I keep going. I don’t look back. I can hear spectators saying there’s the 4 hour pacer, so he can’t be far behind me but if I look behind, I’m done. I’ve lost it. Just keep moving forward.

Mile 26: 8:26

I’ve got 12 minutes to get under 4 hours. Can I do this? I think I can if I sustain this pace. I’ll be gutted if it’s seconds over 4 hours. I’d rather be minutes over, than seconds. Let’s see what these legs have left. How long is this mile??? I can’t even see the finish line. OWWWWW. What the hell was that? Did I stand on a nail? Ew my toes feel sticky. Blister. Wow I didn’t know they were that painful when they burst. OWWWWW the other foot now? What the hell is going on with my feet? Thank god I brought flip flops to wear afterwards. Ah we’re turning a corner. The finish line, is that it? It looks so far away. Ah there’s the 3:59 pacer – how have I managed to catch him up? That’s good, let’s overtake him. I think he’s slowed a bit and let his group run on. I think I might just do this. That finish line isn’t getting any closer. Come on, push. Think good strong form. Relax your shoulders. Move your arms. Oh it’s Dan, he’s made it. I’ll wave and look happy, but don’t slow down you’re nearly there. The finish line. Arms up. Happy relieved face. 3:58. You’ve bloody done it woman!

 

Thanks for the finish straight photo, Rick

 

After the finish line:

I can’t walk. How have I just managed to run a marathon? Where do I go? I can’t focus. I need to sit down. Oh look, goody bags. Small t-shirt please. And water. Yes please. Is there food in here? I need real food. A protein bar, that’ll do. Oh there’s a UKRunChat vest, that must be Garry. I say hi to Garry who introduces me to Caithy and we have maybe 6 attempts at a selfie.

 

Caithy takes a photo of Garry and me in the end

Everything is so difficult after a marathon. A chap called Andy comes and says hi who also recognises me off Twitter so we congratulate each other – he’s run an amazing time! I need my bag so I can find my flip flops. Oh there’s alcohol free beer too, yes please. I need carbs. I don’t like beer but this tastes INCREDIBLE. I need a wee though. Hello lady sitting on the floor, please would you look after my beer, I don’t want to take it into the portaloos. Ahhhhhh. Relief. I need to get this sticky sweaty top off and a dry one on. I need to get these trainers off too. I’m not looking at the blisters yet, I’ll look when I get home. Owwwwww, foot cramp. How on earth am I meant to get these flip flops on without touching my blisters? Slowly slowly, no I’ll fall over. Someone help me, why is this so difficult. Owwwww. Right let’s try the other one. Owwwwww, this one’s cramping too. I can see all the veins tensing. That’s disgusting, and really hurts. Why is this so difficult. Right, stand up, let’s go find my family. I’ve done it. Proud of myself today.


Thank you to UKRunChat and Breathe Unity for the opportunity to run the ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon 2017.

Grindleford Gallop 

I remember many years ago, while I was out walking up Ingleborough in the pouring rain one August bank holiday, and I saw two fell runners pass us, in shorts and vest, heading up the hill. “I’d never be able to do that,” I recall saying to my husband, as they trotted past us.
Yesterday, as we emerged from muddy fells and tumbled into the sleepy villages of the Peak District, covered in mud, sweating, looking a little worn out and tired, I recognised that same puzzling look in the faces of villagers enjoying a Saturday morning coffee, or out for a walk, that I had given the fell runners all those years ago. It seemed I had crossed to the other side. 

 

The first climb out of Grindleford towards Eyam
 
Grindleford Gallop is not a registered fell race, but it is a serious distance event (21 miles) on which the organisers recommend taking full FRA kit. I sense a true fell race is not far off for me. 
I heard about the Grindleford Gallop by pure chance, when I bumped into somebody at a parkrun that I had run a 401 marathon last summer with, around Ladybower reservoir. “If you loved that,” he told me, “the Grindleford Gallop opens next week, but be quick because it always sells out straight away.”
When I got home that day, I researched it and found it fitted into my marathon training plan perfectly. It was 3 weeks before Manchester, so would serve as my longest run before I started tapering mileage towards 2nd April. 

 

At the top of Longstone Moor
 
It turns out the race sold out in 5 minutes, so I consider myself very lucky to be on the start line with 300 other runners this year. I had been really nervous leading up to it, worrying about navigating the 21 mile route on my own but once I chatted to other runners who had run it before, my mind was soon put at rest that it was well marked. My plan was to always make sure I had others runners around me. I had also studied the written route instructions carefully and had memorised the main turning points of the route. If all else failed I had an OS map in my bag with the route marked on it. 
The start was on a field in the village of Grindleford, and the race brief consisted of a quick warning to check in at every control point with your chipped wristband, to stick to the marked route over Longstone Moor to protect nesting birds, and to ring the bell when crossing the golf course near Chatsworth. Then the klaxon sounded, and we were off!
There were a few queues within the first quarter of a mile to get through a couple of stiles but once we hit the first hill at 1.5 miles, the field thinned out. The hills were very much “walking” hills, and my calves were burning even walking. There were marshalls at all the main road crossing points, and the control points, and the rest of the route was marked with arrows. I could always see other runners around me apart from very occasionally so I soon relaxed into enjoying the views, which were stunning! 

 

Mud on Longstone Moor
 
There were refreshments at each “even” control point, and the “odd” CPs were simply to scan your wristband. Jelly babies heading onto the beautiful Longstone Moor gave me an early sugar boost but I was especially looking forward to cake at later checkpoints. (There is a theme developing with my races this year.)

 

On the Monsal trail
 
The route took in part of the Monsal trail which I had never run before, and which I had been looking forward to. Actually this turned out to be the least favourite section of the race for me, as it was flat and boring (it’s an old railway line) and it was full of people, a contrast after the splendid isolation of the hillsides and the moors. We soon left the Monsal trail however after a quick sugary cup of tea and some lemon drizzle cake (which was deliciously melty), and started a steep climb uphill over to Chatsworth. We were at around 12 miles here and I had been going for 2 hours. I was feeling ok until we got into Chatsworth park itself at around 15 miles then I felt tired. I reckoned after the hills I was feeling like I will feel around the 20 mile mark at my flat marathon – I needed to refuel now but was around a mile away from the last control point so I tried a sports bean which I had in my pack for an emergency. Wow! The sweetest thing I have ever tasted, but it worked! A noticeable energy boost. A quick small coffee and a bit of rocky road at the next control point got me ready for the final climb up to Baslow Edge. 

 

The descent down towards Chatsworth
 
The mood of runners at that final climb was lovely. There was lots of banter from those who had run it before, there were many locals out cheering us on and proffering jelly babies. It was a tough climb, but wow, was the view worth it. Splendid 360 degree views from what felt like the top of the world. I was bordering on euphoric here (this happens a lot during my long runs) and I just felt so happy! I could feel a blister on my right foot, and my legs were tired, but I didn’t care. I loved this! 

 

Curbar Edge
 
2 or 3 miles along the edge with glorious views, and more locals cheering, and we then began our final descent during a slippery, muddy woodland, back into Grindleford. I was genuinely sad it was over. I actually feel a bit sad that my next race is a road marathon because there won’t be views like this in Manchester. 

 

The incredible view from the edge
 
This was a superbly organised event – great t-shirt, fantastic local support, excellent refreshments (I especially liked how all the cake was wrapped in cling film so you could take it with you – little details like this really make a difference) with a bowl of hot soup at the finish, and well signposted. I’ll be back for more. 
Although I didn’t set out to run this in a particular time, I’m actually pretty surprised that I did it in 4 hours considering it took me the same time to cover the 15 mile route at Hebden in January; a good sign of progress with endurance and fitness gains I hope. 
I’ll definitely be booking more events like this, so if you know of any similar ones, I’d love to hear about them. 
Stats:

Distance: 21 miles

Elevation: 2687 ft

Amount of cake eaten: 2x lemon drizzle, 1x rocky road, and 1x flapjack (saved for later). 

The Belvoir Challenge

I had been looking forward to this event for a while, having heard all the hype about the cake. After Hebden 15, I’ll be honest, I was expecting it to be a doddle, and almost contemplated signing up for the full 26 mile distance, but ever the cautious one, I decided to be sensible and stick to the marathon training plan, so opted for the 15 mile route.

To keep my marathon training interesting this year, I booked in a monthly long trail race – a way of escaping the monotony of the road, and having a focus each month because a marathon can feel a very long time training. With 5 weeks until Manchester, I felt ready for the Belvoir* Challenge.

The day dawned cloudy and windy, with a forecast of heavy rain around midday. Perfect cross country running weather, non? I arrived at Harby village hall at around 7:45am. The race wasn’t due to start until 9, but I wanted ample time for finding a car parking space and some pre-race preparations, which in this case involved eating a banana, drinking a hot chocolate, queueing up twice for a wee, and finding people who had done this event before to check it was easy to navigate and I wouldn’t get lost. Registration to collect numbers was a smooth process – desks were in alphabetical order according to what distance you were running, so there was no queueing. There were also plenty of portaloos available, although inevitably there are always queues for these before a race.

  
I was doing this event on my own, rather than with a buddy. Although I knew there were a couple of fellow club runners tackling the marathon distance, I wasn’t expecting to run with anyone. I felt a little out of my comfort zone actually. I had packed the map that was given out at registration, but it was small scale, so I’m not sure how much use it would have been, but it eased my nerves a little.

At 9am, the 1200 runners were set off! We ran down a road, around a corner, onto a field, and straight into a slippery mudbath. The event is billed as a cross country event, and the sticky, slippery mud was to be a recurring feature of the day. The route changes every year, so I’m not sure how much mud is usually involved, but this was pretty special – feet disappearing regularly into watery bogs and thick, oozy mud. It was actually really tough to run on without slipping over so I found myself slowing down a lot and walking at times.

  
I had been led to believe there was a pretty steep slope before the first checkpoint to get up onto the ridge where the castle is, and as we entered the woods I could see a gentle slope rising into the distance. That doesn’t look too bad, I said to the lady next to me, perhaps a little prematurely. As we reached the top of the false summit, and looked upwards into the heavens, necessitating a full head tilt to see skyward, we could see the actual slope rising into, I’m not sure, giant land perhaps. It looked very high. And very steep. I could just make out spots of colourful neon snaking up it slowly.

  
And so our ascent began. The mud was slippery, with a little bit of undergrowth for grip, and there wasn’t much to hold onto apart from spiky brambles so staying upright was a challenge, and a great core workout. I was giggling hysterically on the way up, because it was once again a ridiculous thing to be doing on a Saturday morning (why do I keep signing up for things like this? Oh yes, because they’re fun.)

  
I made it to the top with mud on my hands, which then of course goes all over your face as you wipe sweat out of your eyes. Delightful creatures, we trail runners, aren’t we? The view over the Vale took my breath away then, then there was a short, flat, run to the checkpoint.

  
Let me talk about the checkpoints. Water, juice, tea, coffee, sandwiches, flapjack, brownie, cookies, sponge cake, carrot cake, cupcakes, savoury scones, Stilton, bananas, Mars Bars, jelly babies, chocolate cake, [add in your own], ad infinitum – they were incredible. All staffed by volunteers who could not have been more helpful. They were lovely. If I have one regret about the day, it’s that I missed the two checkpoints on the full route because I opted for the 15 mile event.

  
So with a belly full of tea and sandwiches and cake, a Mars Bar in my pocket, and my water bottles refilled, I followed the arrows for the 15 mile route as the two routes separated from here, and I headed downhill again (hooray?) into the most beautiful green valley. I love running on grass, and this made a welcome change from the sticky, gloopy mud. It was only 3 miles to the next checkpoint, where I could eventually wash my hands, and stuff my face with more cake and a cup of tea.

  
5 miles to go and we were back on mud again. The rain also started as the wind picked up, so I really didn’t enjoy the section between around 11 and 13 miles, but I got my head down and got on with it. 

  
I feel like we shouldn’t be afraid of the low moments during a run – to me they’re an important part of training to recognise, and they build character and mental strength. We simply need to ask why we’re finding it tough. For me personally, my legs were feeling tired after running 10 miles through mud, so I accepted it and got through it.

  
I eventually made it back to the village hall at Harby in 3 hours 28 minutes (total moving time 2:55, so I did spend a lot of time at checkpoints). The numbers had timing chips on them, so as soon as you crossed the mat, you could type your name into one of 3 computers and see your exact finishing time. Time wasn’t at all important to me yesterday, it just can’t be on that kind of cross country terrain, although there were some runners posting incredible times. For me it was simply good time on feet to train for that marathon and the upcoming ultra. I then filled up on a bowl of soup, but turned down the array of desserts which included crumble, sponge pudding and a few other options. I was full of cake.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. Had I not had an upcoming marathon, and 21 miler coming up soon, I would have done the whole distance and made a full day of it. It’s a cracking event, superbly organised, and impeccably route marked with clear signage. And the checkpoints are worth the entry fee alone (which is £15 by the way – bargain!) There’s no medal, but you can print a certificate off the website, and I bought a souvenir mug and T-shirt. All profits are to the local school, and many of the staff and parents volunteer at the event and bake the cakes and make the sandwiches.

I’ll be doing more of these type of events. I can certainly see why this one sells out every year.

*For those uninitiated in Leicestershire ways, Belvoir is pronounced ‘beaver’ in this instance. Wikipedia tells me the name, meaning beautiful view in French (and it is), is indeed a Norman import but our native population was unable to pronounce it as French, so settled on Beaver Castle.