Four seasons in a day, over and over again. The rain swept across the hills – you could see it coming and going. The sun burst open onto spaces miles ahead only to be chased away by the 40 mph winds. Highland cows grazed and ignored us. Rain washed sheep stared at us in mock horror. It was heaven on earth.
My lasting memories of Malta are going there on my ill-fated honeymoon (that’s another story, kids) and standing in the middle of Valetta trying to buy jazz cigarettes for my then husband. For the whole honeymoon. FYI, that was a long time ago, internetz police. We are, unsurprisingly, divorced.
When Rat Race told me about this new trip, I was a teeny bit sceptical. Spolier - my scepticism, drawn largely from visiting 15 years ago, disappeared as soon as I got there. Malta is BEAUTIFUL.
The idea is to run/swim/kayak/bike across Malta in one day. You don’t have to do all those things. You can mix and match. Like a big old sweetie shop of fun. Y’all know how I feel about bikes right? BIKES ARE CHEAT MACHINES.
Malta is made up of an arpeggio of Islands and this event covers the big three – Gozo, Comino and then Malta itself. We were to start at the top of Gozo and run down the west coast (about 10 miles) then jump in a kayak or swim the 800m to Comino which is TINY. We’d then run across Comino (or kayak around it), then swim or kayak the 2km channel to the mainland. Once out of the water, we would run 35 miles down the western side of the island, from the most northern to the most southern point. Then we would all have a beer and bask in glory.
So that’s 45 miles plus maybe 3km of swim and 4km kayak. Do-able for sure. Do-able in 34 degree heat was going to prove slightly more challenging.
First things first – to pick up the kit., I had gone out to Malta with my trusty boyfriend/support crew Julius, under the guise of it being ‘a holiday’. He was working as crew for the event, along with four other – Nick, Nicola, Shannon and Lisa. We flew out Thursday and spent the evening in a tiny village where they decided to have a massive party that ran from about 10 – 1.30am. Complete with a brass band. Outside our window. Make no mistake, Malta loves to party. They will literally set off fireworks if someone wins on a scratchcard.
Views from our Friday morning “fun run” Photos: Julius Naim.
On Friday morning we got up early and headed out for a run (or a “reality check” as it became known). At 7.30am the temperature was creeping above 28 degrees and the humidity was hideous. We ran trail and road for about 6 miles, and realised that the following day was going to be a lot harder than it was on paper. Malta is not just hot. It is very, very hilly.
Jim came to pick us up at about 10 and we headed out to pick up the hire van and the bikes. The hire van was laughable. Julius had to drive this. On Maltese roads. The bikes were bikes, I would have just chucked them in the back and let them smash about, but apparently we had to look after them because apparently they were “quite good”. (They were actually really good quality hire bikes – all road and very light). Then we headed to the airport to pick up the rest of the test pilots. Myself and my pal G-Law (you may remember him from Mongolia) were the only two runners. Everyone else was on a bike. Those people were the sensible ones.
Once we’d picked up everyone we headed to the ferry for Gozo. We were staying on Gozo overnight before starting the recee at about 4am the following morning. Jim loves and early morning. After a briefing over dinner we headed back to our B’n’B to have a bit of kit faff and to go to sleep. It was about 10.30pm when I went to bed. The alarm was set for 2.45am. WHY DO I DO THIS??
The next morning I marvelled at my own ability to organise myself. I’d sorted all my kit and slept in my pants and sports bra so literally jumped into what was left, slapped a shit load of factor 50 and lube all over me (PARTY TIME!) and picked up my pack. We were fully supported for the run, with crew in cars, so we didn’t have to carry a lot of weight which was a total treat. Everyone in the group seemed to have a decent amount of experience in running apart from my pal Rob’s son who had never done anything like that before. He had that supreme confidence that only 14 year-old boys possess. Probably because he is a 14 year-old boy.
We drove to the start point in total darkness, bundled out the cars and got on the road. The group spread out pretty quickly – we had some fast boys in there, but me and G-Law stuck to the middle of the pack 11 min mile pace that is oh so familiar to relatively lazy ultra runners. I imagine the start was beautiful - it ran along the tops of cliffs, but with only our head torches to guide us, the most exciting thing we saw were the huge rats that skittered past us and into the fields. The route took us through a number of silent and sleepy villages and some beautiful little towns and out onto a fairly main road - obviously extremely quiet given the time of day. Everyone seemed to be going pretty well, and after quick stop at the crew checkpoint at 10km to fill up with bananas and water, we headed towards the south of the island. Make no mistake, it was hot. It was 5am, but already about 27 degrees and we were all sweating buckets. We kept running - I wanted to make the most of the cooler part of the day. I knew what was coming. The latter part of the route took us along a highly technical trail that reminded me of the Jurassic coast, but the Jurassic coast in a dark sauna. If I could have seen how steep the cliffs were, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did.
One of the odd things about Malta is that the dawn doesn’t creep up, morning it just appears. There’s no warning or crack in the sky, suddenly the sun is just there peeking above the horizon. Coming into the most southern tip of Gozo was beautiful. We were greeted by the support cars and kayak crew, and after a quick bite to eat, shoe change and even more factor 50, we got into out kayaks. G-Law was swimming this bit. He looked a teeny bit scared. We just laughed at him, being the supportive people that we are, and watched him slip arse over tit as he walked down the slipway into the water.
The Kayak was a total treat. The sun was coming up and the water was like glass, Our guide took us into a small cove at the edge of Comino, where G-Law got out of the water, put on some shoes and started his less -than-parkrun across the island. I was pretty gutted I hadn’t thought about this bit. Ideally, I would have loved to have run across Comino too, but just didn’t think about the logistics. All was not lost though, as we got to paddle through the blue lagoon on the west side of Comino, through the undisturbed crystal waters at 6.30am with hardly anyone there. People that have been to Malta before will know the blue lagoon is a total tourist trap, filled with teenagers taking Instagram pictures of themselves pouting, but at this time in the morning there was nobody. It was truly beautiful.
After paddling through some choppy water round the outside of the island, we pulled up on a natural slipway and all trotted up to the fort at the top of the island. Then it was back into the boats for the 2km paddle across to the mainland. This was some proper paddling and although it was massively enjoyable don’t under-estimate how much it takes out of you – 2km is a long way for someone like me with very little upper body strength! Poor G-Law was swimming behind us but smashed it out in about 45 mins because he’s a legend.
Once on the mainland, we once again regrouped, had a group photo, ate all the food, got changed and procrastinated for as long as possible before saying goodbye to the cyclists. It was about 9.30 when we finally set off on the 35 mile-run, and the temperature had crept up to about 30 degrees. There was no shade. This was our life for the next 10 hours. And it was only going to get hotter.
From top left clockwise: End of the first run at dawn, kayaks ready, on the water, G-Law emerges.
It’s easy to forget what you have already done in staged races. Running in heat really takes it out of you – not to mention the swimming and paddling. I started feeling what can only be described as “a bit shit” about 2 miles into what was essentially a fast walk up to the top of the cliffs. Classic feelings really. Felt sick, felt hot, felt spaced out. I was drinking loads of water and had taken salt, but I was allowing my brain to take over. Worrying that it was only going to get hotter and that we had hours of this ahead of us. I felt bad because I was slow and not as fit as G-Law. We sort of talked it out. We ran when we could – the terrain was the more metal side of technical. We walked when we had to and basically got on with it. It wasn’t fast, but we were doing it.
The scenery was twenty types of amazing. Beautiful views of amazing coves with crystal water, the weirdness of Popeye Village (look it up – MENTAL place), the disused buildings, the farms with rows and rows of plum tomatoes, pumpkins and watermelons and the views of the trails stretching on into the distance. Mentally it’s a tough one. You need to be on top of your game to manage your brain and the heat. Your body will do everything it can to tell you to stop. But you just have to keep keeping on.
At about 6 miles we reached the first support stop and drank a litre of water each. No shit. I ate a banana and stuffed loads of sweets into my bag and we continued on. We were told the next crew car was “only 5 miles away” so we didn’t worry too much about running out of stuff. Spoiler – it wasn’t only 5 miles away. The next stretch took us along a popular tourist beach (Golden Sands) before an extremely steep climb over a huge natural wave break. At times, this was more of a scramble than a climb, with the descents being almost as much trouble as the climbs, but after a couple of miles we were back on another beach. This was where things started to get hairy.
Some views. Some idiots.
Every path off the beach that we tried to take was marked as private land. We spent a good hour trying to navigate cactus filled paths and ascents, but nothing. Eventually we decided to sack it off and follow a different route on the road. The problem with running on roads in that heat however, is that the sun bounces off the tarmac so burns you from both directions. It’s like being in a microwave. It was about 12pm and the heat was relentless. It had climbed to about 34 degrees. I had tried to soak my hat and buff in the sea, but the sea is REALLY warm (bloody mediterranen!) so no go there. We got our heads down and trotted it out, over some long slow climbs, willing the support vehicle to appear over the next hill. Nothing.
We knew that the cyclists were planning to stop at 15 miles in the walled city of Mdina, for lunch and coffee. We knew that they were already there. We were about 2 hours behind them. Our trail was different to theirs - they were exclusively on the roads – and we knew that at least one of them had pulled out but was still a little disheartening. I think it was about 12 miles when G-Law asked me if “hypothetically” I could continue on my own. That worried me a bit. He had been feeling sick for a while and kept telling me he felt cold. I tried not to panic. We kept on trekking up the hills, I kept talking to him and kept pace in front, acting like bait for him to keep on up the hills. Having him tailing me was weird. He is seriously so much fitter than me. He admitted it himself – the swim had knocked him for six. I’m not surprised – the swim would have probably killed me.
At about 14 miles there was still no sign of the support crew. We had run out of water and food. All the shops in the area were shut for siesta time. I started to get ratty. I called in support and asked where they were in a not-very-nice way. I found a shop that was open and managed with my emergency 5 euros to get me and G-Law a cheap shit sugary ice pop thing and some water. We found a house and sat on the step outside, waiting for the crew.
It was funny watching G-Law eat his LIDL calippo. I could see him coming back to life with every sip of water and bit of ice lolly. The crew turned up – they had been held up through no fault of their own by a cyclist who had earlier pulled out. Information had been lost in translation and they had missed the pit stop. It was fine. they fed us cold coke and pastries. This is why we do these trips – so we know where we will need people to be. This is definitely a every 5-7km type affair. We were drinking so much water so fast.
After our little pit stop and pep talk, we got up and started out on the final 20 miles. It was later than we would have liked. The cyclists had enjoyed 2.5 hours of lunch and LOLS in Mdina. We had a long way to go and no pizza lunch. We arranged to meet the crew every 5km from then on, mainly to help with our mental states, but also to keep an eye on our physical state. There aren’t loads of shops everywhere on Malta so it’s hard to be self-sufficient as far as water and snacks are concerned unless you carry a massive pack. We only had small boys. It’s also hard when there are only two of you. I am so used to running with bigger groups and test pilot trips are not like races in that respect.
Views. Good innit?
The new plan worked like a dream. Every 3 miles we saw our support crew, had a croissant or banana and filled up on water and we were travelling well – faster than before and enjoying ourselves. The route just didn’t stop giving. It was just ridiculously beautiful. If the weather had been 15 degrees cooler, it would have been totally ideal. We were sensible and looked after ourselves and before we knew it, we had reached the 30 mile mark. It was getting late and we were a bit knackered. The good news is that it was also starting to cool down a bit.
The last 5 miles properly dragged. Julius ran with us for a bit and Pete joined us too, but knowing the cyclists had all finished and were back at the hotel was killer. We eventually got to the end of the island at about 8.15, just as it was getting dark. The last half mile was all up hill. I hated the last half mile. But we had finished. Malta DONE. 16 hours on foot and kayak. 45 miles. An all -time personal worst for time. Apart from Panama. But we don’t talk about that
We got into the car to drive back to the hotel, and it wasn’t until then that I realised how beaten I was. The heat and the ascent and the early start; the paddling; for G-Law the swimming. It had been a full-on day. That’s not to say it was a sufferfest. It was as beautiful as it was brutal, and there’s nothing like knowing that you’ve managed to traverse a country in a day. That’s a nice feeling.
So that’s it. The Maltese Falcon done. A proper brilliant day out. Don’t underestimate it. I can’t comment for the cyclists, but running it was tough. Best things about this event:
You can dress it up as a holiday. We stayed on for 3 days afterwards enjoying the islands (and yes, I did make Julius run 7 miles of the route on the monday for fun). Bring the family – Rob did it with his wife and two kids!
It’s totally doable physically and financially. It’s going to be cheap for what it is and you get so see the spectacular side of Malta when most of the tourists are still asleep.
It won’t be as hot when it’s done next year. I think Rat Race are talking about October time, so about 10 degrees cooler, but just as sunny and glorious.
You’re fully supported. The crew were brilliant and now we have ironed out support stops, you’ll be really well looked after.
As for me, next week I am off to Scotland to attempt the coast to coast – over 100 miles running, trekking and packrafting from the west coast of Scotland to the east coast. I think the weather may be a little different….
Sorry for the radio silence, friends. I have been working on something that I am finally ready to unleash to the world. And I am shitting myself about it.
Long story short(ish). I’ve been having a weird old time of it recently. I’ve been really heavily involved in some very, very cool stuff, especially with Rat Race and White Star. I’ve done some brilliant events (Man Vs Coast, Man Vs Lakes, Giants Head Marathon all AMAZING and I accidently won Cider Frolic last weekend – 60 lapped miles - hurrah!) but one thing has become apparent. This just can’t go on.
Some LOLS from the last few weeks.
I’m working part time for a brilliant social enterprise to keep the wolfette from the door, and I have a couple of freelance clients, but I am spending more and more time planning recees, putting together teams for running projects and answering emails and social media messages from people that want to know about running stuff. One of my clients is Rat Race – I’m at the end of the “Ask Allie” email address and talk to people about some very specific stuff – you know the drill; Will I die in the jungle? How do you get a machete through customs? etc etc. It’s quite good fun (FYI answers are ‘no’ and ‘with difficulty’) but that is only a fraction of it.
Every week I get more and more people reaching out to me via the facebook/IG page, on my personal email or via the website. I spend hours each week replying to them or even calling them to go through stuff. This stuff ranges from mental coping strategies on long races to complete lack of confidence to the best bag to run a trail marathon with. So, the question is if I am spending hours on this every week and getting results, why the fuck don’t I do it for a living? It’s what I’m good at and I love it. The reason is because I haven’t had the balls to try. Until now.
Let’s quickly got through the reasoning for this, mainly because I think it will ring some bells for people. As some of you know, I am not the best when it comes to my own view of myself. I say things to myself that I would NEVER say to anyone else. As much as I am way better than I have been in previous years, I hate on myself on a regular basis. From first thing in the morning (‘why are you always so fucking tired? Urgh you look like shit’)to last thing at night (‘what have you achieved today? Pretty much nothing - standard’). I am just the best at smashing myself repeatedly over the head with a metaphorical hammer. I don’t know why I do it. Well I do, but it’s a really long story. Maybe one for later. As I said I would NEVER do this to anyone else. In fact, I do completely the opposite.
The last six months have seen a monumental shift in my life. Moving to the countryside from the hideous hellhole that is London sounds like the dream, but it’s not when you have very few friends and no concrete job. It’s scary and weird. Think Hot Fuzz meets League of Gentlemen with a bit of Broadchurch thrown in. It is so, so different to the life I had before. It’s better in a million ways, but overwhelming in a few hundred as well.
The term failure has made an appearance more than once in our household over the last six months. And it’s always me saying it to myself. Today, I know that I am not a failure. Tomorrow may be different. Failing is just another word for learning. Failure on the other hand is another word for, well, failure.
I read a book recently that talks about the conscious mind vs the subconscious mind. The concious mind is our ego. It’s the bit that protects us from harm, which is great and awful at the same time. Not only does it believe it can predict our future but it also loves dragging up the past – mainly to illustrate how our future will be. It’s the thing that stops us in our tracks and tells us that things won’t work, people hate us and everything is falling to bits. The thing is (spoiler) the only future we have is right in the moment. The ego cannot predict what is going to happen in the next hour, day or year, yet it does this a thousand times a minute on a daily basis. It stops us from achieving things. And it stops us from trying things. It stops us from taking risks that might well pay off.
This affects every single part of our lives, from launching a new business or project to signing up for a race that we really want to do. I see the concious mind in every email I get. And I also see the doubt created by ego. I’m slowly coming round to this idea and I want to help other people to come round to it to.
I’ve always wanted to find the time to step up and genuinely help people to do some of the stuff that I have done. I never really had a crew to help me in the early days and until now, I’ve just not found the vehicle. But by gum I may have finally got it. It’s called Ultra Awesome and you can read all about it here.
Today is the day I am launching this. I’m going to do it softly, gauge interest and see who thinks it’s a good idea. I’m worried about it failing. I’m worried about it going all wrong. I’m worried about asking people to pay for it, despite knowing I have unique experience and I am good at talking positively to people. I would love for you lot, who read these blogs, to take a look for me. All feedback good and bad more than welcome. Drop me a line here.
It comes down to this. I am asking you to support me to support you. I’m asking you to have the belief in me that I often don’t have in myself. I want to find the time to be able to talk to people, time to be able to give them support, advice and maybe a bit of inspiration. Time to tell them my stories and make my experience theirs. Time to hold their hands as they step into adventure and experience that will change their lives for the better.
I don’t know if it will work. And I don’t know how far we can go. But in the words of David Bowie, I promise it won’t be boring.
Anyway thanks as always for reading. Let’s try and build this thing together.
If you would like to find out more about Ultra Awesome click here.
For the Patreon page click here.
If you just want to buy me a virtual cup of coffee, click here.
Panama Coast to Coast Test Pilot Trip - Part 4.
Panama Coast to Coast Test Pilot Trip - Part 3.
Panama Coast to Coast Test Pilot Trip - Part 2.
Panama Coast to Coast Test Pilot Trip - Part 1.
Panama Coast to Coast Test Pilot Trip - the warm up. Crossing Panama in a day via the Panama Canal.
Namibia: Race to the Wreck Test Pilot Trip - Part 3 PLUS BONUS CONTENT (me getting angry on a mountain).
Namibia: Race to the Wreck Test Pilot Trip - Part 2
Namibia: Race to the Wreck Test Pilot Trip - Part 1
An introduction to the longest sequence of blogs you will ever read.
I honestly don’t know what’s wrong with me sometimes. Two months after swearing that I would never run it again, I find myself on the train to Oxford to run 50 miles of my favourite worst nightmare, the Thames Path.
How has this happened? Well, I was signed up to the Atlantic Coast challenge this year, but had to defer when my partner in crime and caravans pulled out - I just couldn’t afford to do it on my own, and this left a large gap in my ‘endurance training’ in the run up to Namibia and Panama. So, I got on the internets, and started looking for another race. The only thing I could find that was affordable and nearish my house was the Thames Path Trot. On the Thames Path. Thames. Path.
Organised by Go Beyond Ultra, a company I have never run with before, this is a “50” (it’s actually 48) mile run from just outside Oxford, to Henley-on-Thames. My rose tinted spectacles told me this was the “nice” part of the Thames. Here’s how my brain works:
“The bit through Abingdon is lovely!”(Allie, you had a meltdown in the rain there)
“Iffey Lock is glorious!” (Allie, the path was so overgrown you needed a machete)
“The run out of Goring is AMAZING!” (Allie, you get PTSD from the A100 when you see the village hall)
“Henley is so nice - some brilliant pubs there” (Allie, how do you know? You have only ever run through it in the dark).
I reasoned it’s not so bad, it’s a course I know and I need to get the miles in, so I signed up (for a very reasonable £52), and got on with my life.
But I had missed something hadn’t I? I had blocked out the horror that lies between Goring and Henley. My brain was protecting me from that dark place, a place I swore I would never run through again. A place of angry outbursts and discarded cheese sandwiches. A place where friendships with pacers are cast aside and minute mile records are smashed, out of fear rather than personal choice. A flat, dismal grey abyss, where the rich are separated from the poor by a river and Race Directors run out to accompany you for the sake of their own insurance. I had blocked out the horror that is READING.
No. Just no.
The race is on a Saturday which is a wonderful thing because it means you can get drunk after - and this year was their 11th edition. The 8.30am start meant a 4am wake up call for me to get to Oxford, which was nice, and it was a stunner of a morning. My Head of Crew ™ Lorna picked me and a lovely stranger called Sylvia up from the station at 7.30am. Sylvia was running too - I didn’t just ‘pick her up’ on the train. Not that kind of party.
Race HQ was at a REALLY nice hotel, and when we arrived it was full of runners - the nice kind, not the awful kind - and couples trying to have a romantic break that was being ruined by discarded banana skins and people in lycra. I haven’t felt so welcome and positive at the start of a race for ages. Everyone was chatting and there were all sorts of weirdos. Serious guys who were nice with it, the first timers, the chancers, the plodders; it was a brilliant reflection of the ultra community in one posh room.
I went to drop my bag and bumped into Simon, the RD, who asked me if I was “that girl with the blog who wanted to drop pasta at the aid station”. I confirmed I was that very person. There can be only one. We had a quick chat about stuff that I was doing, and turns out Simon has the exact hammock I need for my Panama travels. And he offered to lend it to me. HOW NICE IS THAT??? This is why I love us Ultra lot. Simon doesn’t know me at all, yet he offers me this mega expensive piece of kit to borrow, just like that. He’s a legend. I like him a lot. Today is a good day. But still. READING.
Doing some running
The race starts at 8.30 - I am running the first 10 miles with Lorna (a little Saturday stroll for her) and we run along faster than we should, having a catch up chat and paying ZERO attention to pace. It was one of those really cold crispy mornings and I start to feel guilty for hating on the Thames Path, because it’s actually quite magical. Totally different from the shitshow it was back in August. Sunbeams and glory, and I am running too fast. Lorna leaves me at the first aid station, where I make my first mistake and decide to eat a GU gel. I bloody love GU gels, but I have self inflicted rules about sugar - nothing during the first half of a race. Why I ate it I don’t know, but I did. It was yummy. I was like a child at a birthday party for all of 10 mins. I didn’t really have anything else in my stomach - breakfast was long gone, and because I had been chatting, I hadn’t paid attention to actually eating real food. This will come back to bite me on the arse. Almost literally.
Snacky McSnackFace making some bad decisions
I trot on alone, listening to 6Music, still running too fast, having a chat with random strangers. The usual. I get to 20 miles and realise that I am well ahead of time in what I thought would be my “training run”. I start to get a bit worried. I managed to cover 25 miles in about 4.15, which for a race of this length, for someone like me, is punchy. BUT YUMMY GU GELS! It’s very flat, and I needed to slow down. And then I realised I was properly hungry.
This was pre-Reading…..
I had been snacking on nuts and stuff a tiny bit, but had totally failed to get any crisps or real food down me. I kept doing that thing where I was like “a couple more miles then lunch” which is stupid. If you’re hungry, eat. By the time I got to 30 miles, I was starving. I stopped and got out my lunch - cheese and onion rolls and crisps - and tried to get it down me, but I didn’t want it. The sugar monster was in me and wanted sweets. I’d left it too late and I felt sick. After a mile of walking and stuffing my face I realised that the sugar rollercoaster wasn’t my only issue. I was in Reading.
It’s just so shit, isn’t it? I can’t work out what’s better, running through it scared for your life in the dark, or seeing it in the daylight. It just depresses me that we, as an intelligent race, can come up with a place like Reading. By this point, I felt really sick and had utilised natures toilet, aka the bushes, a number of times (RIP Buff) and I knew it was because of the too much sugar thing.
Natures toilets. Spot the bush.
I was managing 4-5 miles an hour and not enjoying myself AT ALL when I saw the ray of light that is Julius running towards me. Hurrah! I am not alone!
Poor old Julius. Why he comes out to pace me I do not know. To be fair, I had emptied myself of the sugar monster and just felt tired, so we trotted and chatted and generally had a nice time for the next 10 miles. I love the fact he doesn’t push me to go faster when he knows there is literally NO POINT. He had a massive bag of snacks (not a euphemism). What a winner that man is.
Me emerging from Reading…..
Once you come out of Reading (think about coming out of the Upside Down in Stranger Things - it’s the same) and start to hit Henley, it becomes quite nice, but a bit technical on the old nav, and there is the chance you could get lost. I’ve done this route a lot in the dark, but I was lucky Julius had run from the end to meet me, so he knew where we were going. Sometimes you feel like you are running down the end of a posh persons garden, when it’s actually the Thames Path. About five miles from the end, it started raining which was not in the plan, but I have learnt now to always pack my jacket and I kept thinking “the pubs will be open!” so we made OK time and I got in at about 9 hours 5 mins. Perfectly acceptable - better than I thought I would do. Thank fuck that’s done etc.
At then end we are greeted by Simon and his team. There was a stand with hot drinks, cake and snacks (no beer BOO!) that was brilliant PLUS changing rooms and toilets - a stroke of genius at the end of a 50 miler. I drank a coffee and went to the pub. As is my way.
So overall I had a lovely time. I fucking hate the Thames Path. But this run was actually OK. The race company are brilliant. Aid stations well stocked, brilliant medal, lovely runners and a wonderful RD. I am now looking at their races for next year because they are DEFO my people. A serious note - this is the perfect first 50 miler. Flat, good cut offs and amazing support from volunteers and race company. I might even do it next year for a laugh.
Also look how knackered I am in this picture.
Next up - New York Marathon!
Well, I’ve been shit at this, haven’t I? I’ve just had loads on and so have totally not had time to do the writing thing that I love doing the most. I have, however, been doing a fair bit of running. September saw the inaugural Crafty Fox marathon - a classic White Star marathon ish in the lovely village of Ansty. For reasons known to nobody apart from myself, I decided to wear a fox tail. Calm down everyone, it’s not a real one. I left that at home. This was 2 loops of a beautiful working farm, with cows and views and posh schools and loads of lovely runners.
It was my first marathon in a couple of weeks, and my training had been less than satisfactory. At this point in the year, I’m just trying to keep things ticking over rather than win stuff or beat my PB’s or even do anywhere near ‘well’. My “A “races have been done, and I have achieved what I set out - there’s just the small matter of 3 weeks of running across deserts and jungles in November to deal with, so ultimately I need to keep fit for what will be day after day of ‘challenging’ endurance running.
I turned up with about 30 miles in two weeks under my belt, telling myself it was “only” a marathon (epic mistake). I also didn’t pack anything substantial to eat because, again, I just thought it’s “only” a marathon. I am a twat. As is the way with White Star races, this was not flat. I was running with Julius, who was taking it easy as he had the half marathon the next day (where I was marshalling) so we set off, almost immediately walking up a massive hill. The course was lovely - farmland tracks, mega up hills and cows trotting next to us. The downs were as steep as the ups and, after about 6 miles, I started to get hungry. The aid stations had the usual mix of WSR stuff, but I really needed a sandwich and I didn’t have one. The fact that I was hungry, basically meant my run was a slog. It took away from the beauty of it - all I could think about was food. As it was a test race, the usual Love Station was less full than it would have otherwise been, which led this vegetarian to eat 71 mini sausages on the first loop. Sorry everyone, but a girls gotta eat. If I am honest, I hated that second loop, but it is my fault entirely. Food is important.
Not a cult……
This is a beauty of a race - as long as you’re not starving. The race village felt like a party zone - so many great faces and the brilliant Piddle Brewery delivering the goods on the booze front. The medal is awesome too. Would I do it again? 100%. Will I make sure to eat and get a bit more training in? Yes. As I said, I am a tail-wearing twat.
After a month off events with weddings and other stupid normal human stuff in the way, it was time for the Downslink Ultra. This is an event run by Jason McCardle - A Do-Badder and all round good egg. A race director who is also an endurance runner is a good thing - they know what’s what. I had been promising him for ages I would do a Sussex Trail Event, and had to this point failed, so I was really looking forward to this. It’s basically 38 miles down a disused railway track, running from Guildford to Shoreham-On-Sea. It’s flat - I LIKE FLAT! And I totally loved it.
Start line pose…..
The wonderful Lorna Spayne (Head of Bailey Crew OBE) picked me up in the morning, and drove me to the start, and then went off on marshalling duties. She’s so brilliant. I love her. The run is point to point, so Julius had parked his car at the end and got a bus up to meet me at the start. Clever ain’t we?
Navigation is simple - follow the signs. The route is packed trail, with some stunning trots through forest and old tunnels. Although it’s a long, straight line, it never gets boring to look at - the weather was AMAZING - we lucked out with one of those cold, sunny autumn days, but once again my lack of midweek running was showing, and at times I found it a struggle. The start was at the top of a hill (approved) where we all whizzed down sandy trails and across very quiet roads to reach the first aid station at around 6 miles.
Dat Autumn sun filter….
At the second aid station, I bumped into Jay and mentioned how lucky we were with the weather - the day before had been appauling. “I know” he said “I ran it yesterday to check the route”. That’s what you want - and RD that does that is a keeper, and believe me a lot of them don’t!
Aid stations were stocked with stuff for everyone - props on the vegan bites Jay! - and with super lovely marshals. I can only compare this to White Star for it’s organisation and support. You can tell Jay is a runner - he knows what runners want to eat for a start. The other runners were great and happy to chat as we clattered along - no Salomon men here (well a few but I didn’t see them because SLOW). Once again, Julius ran with me - I am trying to train him to run slower for the longer races we have booked in next year - not easy. He reminds me of my dog. I have to shout “WITH ME” every 5 mins when he tries to run off. I don’t have a lead for him though. Not that sort of party.
Welcome to the jungle….
This is a race for people that like to be sociable. Of course, it’s a great course for a PB - it’s flat and trail - nothing stopping you smashing it out - but it’s also very social, with wide paths and loads of space. It would be great for groups of people wanting to take on their first Ultra, as the cut offs are pretty decent and you don’t have to run in single file at any point. I think if I had been on my own I would have got bored at points, but the autumn light was so brilliant and the changing scenery also made it seem less like a never ending railway track.
It’s alright this…….
We went through fields, trails and small towns, under tunnels and through bits of ‘british jungle’. The main aid station is right next to a pub, and holy shit was it epic. Everything from sandwiches and mini wraps to cheese and pineapple on sticks to melon. This time, I had been sensible, and packed sandwiches and snacks and nuts, but I didn’t need too. There was even coffee! I was so happy I gave Jay a cuddle and 11 out of 10 for aid station glory. He just looked at me, confused.
Pro running shot courtesy of Lorna!
After this point it started to get a teeny bit more industrial on the run into Shoreham - not the worst end to a race I have ever experienced (Newcastle anyone?) Head of Crew Lorna met us about 2 miles from the end and ran us in. I was pretty happy with 7.14 on the back of no events the previous month and the chilli at the end was delicious, as were the showers. Sussex Trail Events know how to put on a good value, fun and achievable event. It’s safe, beautiful and genuinely a runners race. Jay understands what we want and need, and there’s nothing more to it. I am now eyeing up pretty much everything else he has on offer for next year - go and have a look for yourselves here.
The following week I had the pleasure of being asked to pace my good friend Dan at his first 100 miler - the Autumn 100. As many of you know, this was my first 100 mile event this time last year and I was over the moon to be asked to help Dan out from the 50-75 mile mark. I know what a huge deal your first 100 mile race is and I know how important those pacers can be, so I was both scared I would fuck it up, and thrilled that I got to be part of his story.
Dan looking better before I got to him……
The Ridgeway is leg 3 of a 4 leg race. It’s 50 miles in to the A100. Usually runners run it in the dark - and it is DARK up there - no light at all. I worked on a pace plan with Dan in the weeks before, giving him an A, B and C plan so he wouldn’t feel he was failing at any point. I worked out that to be on course for a sub 24 hour time, he should be with me at Goring at 8pm and ready to go at 8.10. If we could do this 25 mile leg in 6 hours, he would be on for that sub 24 with 7 hours for the final leg (always keep an hour for aid station faff and procrastinating).
I got to Goring at 7pm (just in case) and had been watching his tracker like a hawk all day - he looked like he was on target. Sadly, in the last part of the second leg, he slowed slightly and came into Goring 40 mins later than planned, which means we didn’t leave until 8.50. I would have to try and get him through this leg slightly faster than planned and let his next pacer Kieran know that he was going to have to think more 6 hours than 7 for leg 4.
Being a pacer is frought with difficulties. I know Dan quite well and I love him, we have run together before a lot - he came and ran with me on the Thames Path for 40 odd miles - but working out how far you can push a person is hard. I didn’t want to piss him off, but I had a job to do. We weren’t allowed to crew the runners - that means you can’t touch them, help them get changed or get them food and drink. They have to do it themselves or get a centurion member of staff to do it - that is massively frustrating. I got him out of the hall as soon as I could, and we started walking at 14 min miles up the hill towards the ridgeway. I explained we were late setting out, and we would have to do some running. Dan did not look impressed. He has already run 50 miles. I was fresh out the box.
Halfway through the night shift…..
I was so worried about time and I tried to make Dan run as much as possible, but it was hard. When we walked, we walked at 13-14 min miles and I made him run down most of the hills. I could see him flagging. That far away look you get in your eyes - he had it. I kept on trying to be helpful. You need to be able to read when it’s ok to chat and when you should shut up. I pushed him to run as much as possible, and tried to get him to eat more. He wasn’t eating or drinking enough - I know exactly how he felt - but I also know you have to keep shovelling it down. The second half of the leg featured our best friend the “hammering side rain”. We were cold and wet - I ALWAYS run through this weather - to get out of it quicker - but Dan was only managing 2 mins running and then 5 - 10 mins walking. I texted ahead to tell Kieran to get ready to smash the next leg out in 6.30 rather than 7.
As we came to the end of my leg I did a bit of home truth chat. I told him he could do it in sub 24 IF he could manage to do a 6.30 on the last leg. I told him about how you feel towards the end, and I hope that I helped him and didn’t scare him. We got in to the hall at 6.06 for my leg. Kieran was waiting, got him fed and changed as quickly as possible and got him out. When I saw him in the light of the hall I felt terrible I hadn’t fed him more. He was flagging. He had been running for almost 17 hours and he was half the Dan he usually was. I gave him a cuddle and went to get in the car home. It was 3.30am. Dan had over 7 hours more running to do.
The last leg was appalling for Dan - the weather was awful and his feet were playing up very badly. Despite this, he managed to get back in just over 25 hours - which is a fucking epic time for a first 100. I was lucky on mine - I didn’t have that driving rain and wind. With it, it would have been a very different story. Dan has achieved what 99% of people can’t, and for that I am immensely proud. I loved pacing him and being part of his journey and I learnt a lot from it. Huge thanks to Kieran for bringing him home in one piece. And thanks Dan for allowing me to annoy you for 6 hours.
So that’s where we are at! Next up for me is the Thames Path “Trot” - 50 miles of Thames Path - because we all know how much I love the Thames Path right? (Kill me now) Then I am off to New York for the marathon. And then Namibia and Panama. Jesus christ, will this hell never end? (I hope not…..)
So here’s something a little bit different. This week there was discussion in the Bad Boy Running group on Facebook about adventures. My pal Lorna posed the following question “On a scale of 1 to 10 how much do the adventure podcasts such as Sean Conway, Anna Mcnuff etc make you feel inadequate?! 10 for me! If you had no responsibilities and could just up and leave for an epic adventure what would you do?” Much discussion ensued over this - head over to the Facebook post to take a look, but something about it really got to me.
For some time now, there has been something not right about how I am living. I haven’t been running as much as I would like - down to a little bit of my mojo being sapped by the Thames Path, the arrival of Pickle the very nervous but totally wonderful rescue dog, and my crippling anxiety about the thing that enables me to run. My job.
As some of you know I have worked for many years in the music industry, marketing bands and making you buy music you don’t want. Living the glamorous life that you all read about. Parties and festivals and famous people. I am partially responsible for Ed Sheeran. But please don’t hate me (I love him, he’s great). I am so lucky. Or so I was constantly told.
When we were young - in the years PR (Pre Running)
Two years ago I decided that I didn’t want to do it anymore. Or I thought I didn’t. I was fucked, to be frank. Tired out, abused, taken for granted, under paid, miserable, on the receiving end of some pretty #metoo behaviour. So I went and started my own business as a freelance marketing consultant. To the music industry. And it’s gone well. I had good clients and the money was coming in. I was making a profit. I was doing things on my terms most of the time and I had time for the running adventures and the money to pay for them. Then I lost my biggest client. My bread and butter. And I haven’t been able to replace them as yet. And I don’t think I want to. And I have had a lot of time to think and worry. When Lorna posed this question in the group, it came at a time when I had agreed to take part in a reccee of a race across Namibia and then one across Panama in November/December of this year. A reccee that was not only going to cost me about five thousand pounds, but was also going to put me out of work action for 3 weeks. It was OK though - I had my big client and I had money coming in. And then I lost them. What the fuck am I supposed to do now?
That’s there to be run……the Namib desert
So is that - The Panamanian jungle
I read through people arguments on Lorna’s post, looking for some answers. Should I cancel the trip? How was I going to afford it? Was I being spectacularly stupid? How was I going to get a client when I had 3 weeks of ‘holiday’? There were a lot of people saying if it wasn’t for job/kids/partner etc they would do something epic. Some people even said they wished they could go back in time and get these things done before they had “settled”. I have never settled. I did for a while (the married years pre running) but I never really settled.
People like to tell you how to live or how you ought to live, especially on the internet. Good education, stable career, pension, husband, wife, children, save, mortgage, sensible, safety, plan. Saving it all up for a rainy day. But what if every day is a rainy day? What if it’s raining from day one and it only stops occasionally to allow a glimpse of sunlight into the otherwise black room of your brain? What if everything that you have been told you want is wrong? What if the things YOU thought you wanted are wrong? What if the thing you love starts to destroy you? Was that part of the plan?
Losing my biggest client was not part of the plan. The plan was long term. I want to make a living from my running. Something that is NOT the done thing. I am told by people that I am inspiring and clever and engaging and funny. I do not necessarily believe this, but the proof is in the pudding and I do know people that have gone out and done their first 10k, marathon, ultra because I have talked them into it - whether that is inspiring or whether I am a good sales person, I don’t know but there it is. I have done some pretty great adventure runs and I love to talk about them, I love to see people finish their first marathon or ultra and I love to be able to help with advice that I believe is contrary to most of the stuff you get from magazines or online. The CEO of The National Running Show recently referred to me as the first of the “Rock and Roll runners” - a description I totally love. Running is my passion. It has changed my life. Even if I don’t get out and do it every day like the shiny people on instagram, I am always thinking about it. What sort of races I could do, where I could go and how I can help other people make their races and race companies great. How to makes things accessible and brilliant. how to make people glorious.
Before I lost my client, I was branching out and doing all the extra curricular I could around running - going out to Mongolia with Rat Race - the ultimate adventure, becoming their only female ambassador, doing the various bits of press etc. Running all the White Star Races, bringing the White Star community into the Bad Boy Running community to make it the most glorious and dangerous group of all time. Working with the National Running Show to secure a partnership with Bad Boy Running, becoming and ambassador for them and being lucky enough to be asked to speak at their event. I was running races most weekend - winning some of them - and triumphing in all my A game races for the year which I am very proud of (SDW100 sub 24 hour, winner and now course record holder of the TP184 and winning the Ox Epic 2018). Everything I wanted to do with regards to running this year I have achieved, and that to me is amazing. So why have I managed to achieve these things but NOT managed to secure another music client? Maybe it’s because I don’t actually want to. Music and me, I think we are finally done. The long drawn out process of splitting up and getting back together is over.
From when I did a win.
I woke up in the middle of the night last night, petrified and afraid. I cannot afford Namibia and Panama. I can’t afford the flights or the time off. I have very little money coming in and no savings. I have no 9-5 bread and butter money. I am fucked. So, so fucked. I am going to have to cancel it. And then I thought of Lorna’s post again. I thought about the people that I admire and look up to - the Sean Conway’s and the Anna McNuff’s. I thought about Mongolia and how much that experience can NEVER be taken away from me. I think about my own mantras - see the world through your eyes not your phone. Relentless forward progress. You have more in you. I think about being old and the regrets I may have. I can’t go - I have a dog and I need to make money. I need to be sensible and grown up. I am going to have to email Jim and cancel it. I am going to have to do what society tells me I should do.
I think about when I am most happy. I think about the Crafty Fox marathon at the weekend and how much I am looking forward to seeing the White Star lot and how much I am looking forward to running. I think about how kind Jim and Rat Race have been to me. I think about how happy I am when I give a talk to a bunch of people that think they could never run a marathon or a 10k or an ultra and how, when some of them email me months later to tell me they have done it, I feel like doing a little cry. I think about my breakdown. I think about the death of my dear friend Scott. I think about my future. I can’t see further than tomorrow. I call my sister, my most wonderful sister, and talk to her. And I make a decision. Based entirely on gut. Based on my sister being spectacularly supportive and kind and talking to me from her heart.
Fuck it. Fuck it all. I know what I want to do. I want to inspire people, I want to live a positive life, and give back the joy running has given me to people. I want to make people believe in themselves. I want to show people they are capable of so much more than they think. I want to write a book. I want to run all over the world. I want to be an extraordinary, ordinary person. And I want to be happy doing it. I don’t want to be rich, or famous or the best or the fastest. I want to be the kindest and the most honest and the most accessable. I need money to live, but there has to be a better way. I don’t have children. I have Pickle the dog, but she will be well looked after. I have nothing left to lose, and even the tiny bits I do have to lose mean nothing. I want to live a life less ordinary.
So I am going. I am going to run 300km across the Namib Desert to the Skeleton coast. Then I am going to run 200km across Panama from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast. I will be poor. I will have to move out of London. I want to move out of London, so this is not a problem. I will have to work hard to secure talks and part time work. I will have to scale back my whole life. But I will do it. And I will do it fucking well.
Normal service will be resumed next week after the inaugural Crafty Fox marathon. Now go and sign up for something extraordinary.