The Namibia/Panama Crossings - Panama Coast to Coast, Days 13 and 14 - The Jungle.

I wake up at 5am, as instructed, with the same feeling I had the day before I collected my A-Level results. Sort of sick, sort of excited. I put my feet on the floor and HOLY FUCK does my right foot hurt. Last nights compeed has done nothing but make the blister worse - more fluid has built up and it’s pushing against the dressing. There’s nothing else to do but get up and rip it (and the top layer of skin) off. It hurts. A lot. But no time to dick about now. I have to borrow a needle from James to get the rest of the fluid out, but I can’t get my boot on otherwise. It’s gross and painful. I put alcohol and iodine onto it, plaster and tape it and hope that it doesn’t get worse. 

After a huge breakfast (a mostly silent one, like a wake) it’s time to leave. Our bags are put in the car and taken to the bottom of the hill. Even picking them up to put them in the car is horrible. This is it. This is what I have to carry for the next “3 days”. At the bottom of the hill, we put our packs on. The plan today is to cover 25km of jungle and then camp. It is 7am when we leave. 25km takes me about 2 hours if I’m running. It CANNOT take more than 5 hours. With a lunch stop. It just can’t. Here is a picture of Merlin at the start of the trek. I like this, because he looks so fresh and clean and innocent. He looks like one of the kids at the start of the film ‘I.T.’ 

The face of innocence.

The face of innocence.

Let’s get this clear. With the jungle, there is no support crew, no shop, no people, no extra snacks, no extra water, no nothing. There are no get outs, no going back and no trotting off on your own. You are dependant on yourself and each other. You cannot just say “I’m a dickhead, get me out of here”. If you want out, it’s helicopter and you had better be injured. That is the only way. No phone signal, very weak GPS. It’s fucking serious. Once you’re in, you're in.

Packs on. Let’s go.

Packs on. Let’s go.

From the get go, it was so hard. I had never done anything like this before. The cheat sticks came straight out. The terrain to start was hard, chalky rock, sometimes vertical in it’s ascent. We all got on with it, hoofing ourselves up, trying to drink enough water and take enough salt. It was already hot, but it was manageable. I had taken some ibuprofen and codeine, and my foot didn’t hurt anymore, but that meant everything else did. After a couple of hours we got to the outskirts of the jungle. The first 2 miles had taken us 28 minutes and 29 minutes respectively. This was going to be a LONG day. Those two miles were the fastest 2 miles we would do that day. Or all week, for that matter. 

On the up. Photo: James Appleton

On the up. Photo: James Appleton

On the edge of the real jungle, it started to get muddy. Really muddy. December is the end of rainy season in Panama. When the event goes ahead in 2020, it will be done in March. It will be a lot drier. To try and get an idea of the mud, here is a video of a mule taking a cock back from wining a cock fight. 

Seriously, that chicken has won a fight and so is allowed to ride the mule home, but also MUD. That animal had 4 legs! This is not a muddy puddle. This is life from here on in. 

We trekked on and on, trying to keep our spirits up. A 44 min mile, a 49 min mile, a 50 min mile, on and on it went. Energy was sapped. We stopped for our first lunch of cold, wet pasta. I think that was the day he had lunch on the Continental Divide. But if I’m honest I can’t remember. We did do that one day though. I had never felt so tired. Everything was heavy. The knowledge there was no bed or shelter tonight was also there at the back of my mind. Mentally I was doing OK, but it wasn’t until 9 miles in, at about 3pm, when we put our packs down, that I felt a true sense of how utterly depleted I was. Taking the pack off, and staring at the thick jungle where we were supposed to sleep was pretty hilarious. The aim was to set up camp at 3 or 4pm every day, in daylight. Today was the only day that we would actually do that. 


Moses and Elvin set at it, chopping down the huge vines and leaves to make space for the hammocks. Didn’t look much like a campsite, if I’m honest. Now was the real test. Can Bailey put a hammock up on her own? I had done it once in the lodge with help. I was sure it would be fine.

Taking ‘Air B’n’B’ literally. Home for the night.

Taking ‘Air B’n’B’ literally. Home for the night.

It took me about an hour, but I got it up before 5pm and I was SO FUCKING PROUD OF MYSELF! Here’s a little video I took - apologies for the bad sound, but my little face is so happy. I have even managed to forget how hard the day had been and make it seem fun! These were halcyon days. The naive. halcyon days. 

After putting up the hammock, I began to realise how disgusting I was. I was sweaty and dirty and had nowhere to sit. I couldn’t take off my boots because I had nothing else to put on my feet. The jungle floor is a mixture of mud, debris, roots, spikes, killing things, and then you’ve got the locals - snakes, spiders and a billion ants. My feet were white, wet and rotting. Why didn’t I pack those sandals? WHY? 

It’s impossible to get changed and keep dry unless you are super organised and have a chair and some sandals. I had neither of these things and my hammock opened from the bottom so I couldn’t sit in it. All my special dry kit was in one of many dry bags - socks, some leggings to sleep in, one extra pair of pants and two tops - but there was just no way to dry my soaking wet stuff for tomorrow - my leggings, top and sports bra were soaked in sweat and river water, and my boots were wet through. It’s always wet in the jungle. These things would never dry. So I made the decision to sleep in my wet bra and hang my leggings up. That bra didn’t come off for the whole time I was in the jungle. More on that later. 

Setting up camp. Look how organised my bags are. Chucked all over the floor in a heap organised. Photo: James Appleton

Setting up camp. Look how organised my bags are. Chucked all over the floor in a heap organised. Photo: James Appleton

The excitement of first night jungle camp gave me a little bit of energy, so I went and got the water to warm up our pouches for dinner from the stream a few hundred feet away. We ate our tiny meals, and talked about how we were on track to make it to the island of dreams. Oh island of dreams. You are my carrot and I love you. I couldn’t wait to celebrate our achievement with beers and sand and sunbathing. Just a few days away.  Just a few days. 

At 7pm it was bedtime. It’s dark in the jungle. Really fucking dark, and too wet to make a fire and sing songs. We were all shattered. I managed to get into my dry leggings and sleeping bag without getting any little bug pals in my hammock with me, and before I knew it, I was asleep. 

I woke up at about 2am. The specialist quilt around my hammock (attached to the outside) had slipped and I was FREEZING cold. There were noises everywhere. It was weird. I didn’t want to wriggle about in case my hammock fell down. This was a lesson. Next time quilt IN hammock. I slept on and off until 5am when it was time to get up, pack up and ship out. 

The Jungle - Day 14

We wake up in the dark, we get up in the dark. The head torch is king. It’s really hard to motivate yourself to put on cold wet kit, but there is no choice here. It’s like a military operation. I covered myself in lube the best I could - feet, shoulders and all the other bits. I smelt so bad that I was almost offending myself. I managed to clean my teeth and get warmish - putting on the cold wet clothes from the day before with my Montane jacket over the top to try and warm myself up. New dry socks though - and then feet straight into cold, wet boots (checking for fun spider buddies in them before, obviously). Rick warmed the water for breakfast and “jungle coffee” while we took down our hammocks and tarps and diligently packed them away. Everything has mud on it, most stuff is wet and we are very, very tired. It’s strange how your brain switches into survival mode. You just get on with it, almost zombie like. I am no longer scared of ants or spiders or beetles. I just want to fit in with my crew and get things done. I don’t want to be a burden and I don’t want to be broken. 

Camp takedown and breakfast Photo: James Appleton

Camp takedown and breakfast Photo: James Appleton

After breakfast and coffee (basically ground coffee in dirty water, heated up - you drink it if you’re desperate, believe me, grouts and all), it was time to head out. The route was much discussed - something I did not take part in. I trusted Jim and Rick and the guides to get it right. They didn’t need another person messing it up. I would just mess it up. Packs onto aching backs, still hungry. The calorie deficit is so real. Snacks are limited to what you have in your pack, and you are just burning everything you have with every step. 

Start of day two. Rivers to cross.

Start of day two. Rivers to cross.

The first part of todays route is knee deep through a river. Darren and Merlin take their shoes off. I can’t be fucked, and what are you going to dry your feet on when you get to the other side anyway? Darren has done what nobody wants to do, and cut the back of his leg with his own machete. While this may sound funny, it’s not. He needs to be careful. He also has a huge blister between his big toe and second precious toe. More on that later. 

Slightly wet under foot….. Photo: James Appleton

Slightly wet under foot….. Photo: James Appleton

The route is more gruelling than anything I have ever done. It is SO muddy and so rocky. The descents are as bad as the ascents, if not worse. Your legs go to jelly, and the weight on your back pushes you to fall. We cover the height of Snowdon in just a few miles. You have no idea when the ups will stop, and sometimes they don't for hours. Picking a line is almost impossible. The wet kit rubs on my skin and there are multiple rivers to get through. They provide a few seconds of freezing comfort on my hot little feet. I am very aware I am eating a lot. I have rationed my snacks, but I am so, so hungry. I get through the days snacks in the first 4 hours. I save one Pulsin bar for later.  The group are getting quieter. The hills are getting steeper. There are no photos that can do the climbs justice. I stopped taking pictures because I didn’t have the energy to get my phone out and anyway, they don;t show the horror. For a good 4 miles, it’s scrambling. Hands pulling you up wet, muddy, vertical ascents. Trying to use your poles to pull you and your kit up. The rocks drop away from under you. There is no energy. The group get more and more quiet. The group spread out, but ultimately we have to stay together. My heart beats so hard I can feel it in my eyes. Progress is extremely slow, but its the best any of us can do. This is the first time that I realise we may be in trouble. Big fucking trouble.

Some mud.

Some mud.

One of Darrens photos. I just don’t have anything that explains how hard it was, but I am trying!

One of Darrens photos. I just don’t have anything that explains how hard it was, but I am trying!

This was vertical, and went on for about 2 miles.

This was vertical, and went on for about 2 miles.

This environment is relentless. It wants to kill you. I have done some really hard stuff in my time, but this tops it all. I have my first cry at about 3 miles in. I don't stop to cry, I just let tears roll down my face as I try and pick the best line to get up the never ending hills. Sometimes. because I am on my own, I just shout “FUUUUUUCK” really loud at nothing. My legs burn, my lungs burn and my brain has nothing in it. Rob is lagging behind. I am worried about him. Eventually I get to the top of a hill where the rest of the team are sitting. 

This is what they looked like. 

Happy Campers.

Happy Campers.

It’s at this point that Jim starts talking about us not making it to the island. I wanted to punch him in the face. Again. We are much slower than expected (because we were trudging through hell) and we needed to make up a lot time to be able to complete the jungle in 3 days. This seems impossible. We are going to be here for at least 4 days. Maybe 5. We sit in silence. I share some sweets with the team. I use all the coping strategies that I have had in place to protect my mental health throughout my life to deal with my feelings. They are feelings of anger, disappointment and frustration and are directed mainly at myself. I put the wall up in my brain. The protective wall that will stop me breaking. For now. 

Jim is talking to Rick and the guides about how we can get to camp before nightfall. Moses and Elvin don’t speak English - Rick is translating. Moses and Elvin have only ever done this route once, backwards, and that was a while ago. I don’t know how I am going to go on. I refer back to the wall and slowly stand up. 

Relentless, forward progress. Photo: James Appleton

Relentless, forward progress. Photo: James Appleton

A route had been planned. We follow on. Hours go past, we go on. We trudge through fake steps that fall away underneath us, through mud and cow shit, stepping on rotten wooden struts that either give way or make us slip over. We are calf deep in mud most of the time. I feel like I have turned into some kind of psychopath. Just staring ahead with nothing going through my brain. Nobody is going to come and get us. We have to stop at some point.  The tracks we are making run along ridges with huge drops. The earth falls away but the drops are masked by the tops too trees that grow next to us. I know they are there and they make me panic. We have to tuck under fallen trees with the packs on. The trunks mean you have to almost slide under on your stomach. Getting up hurts. Its starting to get dark - it gets dark quicker when you;re under the canopy. Then another huge climb up. We need to camp. We need to stop. 

The shack that saved us. Photo: James Appleton

The shack that saved us. Photo: James Appleton

The jungle fades away to reveal thick, muddy fields where cows graze. We are at the top of a hill and can see a tiny shack in the middle of the field. We have to stay there. That is what my brain is saying. They have to let us stay there. It’s getting dark, and we have been moving for nearly 10 hours. I say to Merlin and Darren that we have to stay there. They say nothing. We stumble towards the shack, and Rick, Jim, Moses and Alvin are already there, talking animatedly to the owners. We are all leaning down, with our heads resting on our poles. We can’t do it anymore. We are really in the shit. We are massively behind schedule. The small family that live in the house invite us onto their porch using hand gestures, and give us a bucket to wash out boots in. It’s like washing your boots in a muddy puddle, but we are so grateful. Water is precious and this is a gift. They say we can sleep on their porch. We are so grateful. We sit there, dazed and confused and exhausted.

Darren sums up everything we are feeling. Photo: James Appleton.

Darren sums up everything we are feeling. Photo: James Appleton.

Talking about that map. On the porch. AGAIN. Still don’t understand the map.

Talking about that map. On the porch. AGAIN. Still don’t understand the map.

Tonights bed fellow. The point is, you’re too tired to care. He’s just living his life. Photo: Darren Grigas

Tonights bed fellow. The point is, you’re too tired to care. He’s just living his life. Photo: Darren Grigas

They say a firm mattress is good for the back sooooo…..

They say a firm mattress is good for the back sooooo…..

We start getting undressed the best we can - which is not well - organising hammocks on the floor. There is nowhere to hang them. We have to sleep on the floor. There are huge spiders everywhere, and no space to stretch out, but we don’t care. This tiny family, who have nothing, have invited us as guests to use their porch and we are so in need of it. All they have is this land, a pig, a few chickens, a mule and a cow or two. These children have never seen a car or a television. They don’t know what the internet is. They look at us like aliens. We are so grateful. They are living. In a way I am jealous of them. To live a life like this is to actually live. 

I felt ashamed of what I was missing. I felt embarrassed at the riches we looked like we possessed. James spent time with the family - taking photos of them and showing them to the spellbound children. James later put the following post up on his facebook and with his permission I have copied and pasted it here. I think he sums it up better than I ever could. 

49664807_367926643784779_639043103025528832_o.jpg

“I'm not sure I have the right words for this picture yet, but here goes. I was also in Panama recently, crossing coast to coast and documenting the recce of a race along the same route. What was expected to be a three day 65km jungle section ended up being five days and closer to 90. We climbed over the height of Kilimanjaro in mud you wouldn't believe. The afternoon we realised that we were, to put it bluntly, in the shit, we stumbled out from the jungle into a small hillside of pasture. One small turquoise shack sat halfway down the knee-deep boggy slopes. The family of four who lived there saw our state and, with less than an hour to dark, let us spend the night on their front porch, giving us free access to their water (no small thing). The simplicity of their lives was so staggering it actually hurt me somewhere inside to see, I'm not going to try and explain this feeling, because I don't want to do it injustice, but that home and its family of four was one of the single most achingly beautiful things I have ever seen. They were all pretty shy, except for this young girl. With her tiny pet chick and a permanent infectious smile, she was a bold little character, and gracious enough to let a grimy, mud-soaked photographer do his thing. No hashtags for this one, it isn't right, just a photograph of something utterly unique.” James Appleton.

We heat up some water and cook our pouches. We eat them fast. We know that we are in trouble. We are so far behind now. But we have ground to sleep on, and we need to sleep. I don’t get changed. I just roll myself into my sleeping bag, in my wet, sweaty kit, put my net over my face and lay on the wooden porch. We all do. We are a team. Tomorrow will be better.  Behind me I can hear a pig snuffling. I am safe. I am with my team, and we will look after each other. 

1I0C1563.jpg

The Namibia/Panama Crossings - Panama Coast to Coast, Days 11 and 12. 

The morning after the traverse before was spent discussing what we had achieved over breakfast. Despite a good nights sleep, everyone was totally knackered, caught in a kind of daze. We couldn’t really take in what we had achieved the day before. Where most runners would be spending the day in front of Netflix with Just Eat on speed dial, we hurriedly packed out bags and headed to Panama City to catch a flight to Las Olas, where the ext day we would attempt the second traverse of the country. 

This traverse was the inaugural Panama Coast to Coast. This is the event that Rat Race will be putting on in 2020. This is the real deal, and nobody knew if it was possible. The itinerary was as follows: 

Day 1: Start running from Las Olas on the Pacific Coast. 50km on roads and trails. Vehicle supported. Accommodation in jungle lodge.

Day 2: Continue running from where we stopped. Another 50km on roads and trails. Vehicle supported. Accommodation in jungle lodge.

Days 3-5: Jungle stage. 3 days totally self sufficient in the jungle. No crew. No support. Sleeping in hammocks. Approximately 25km per day 

Day 5: Emerge at edge of jungle, jump on pacrrafts and paddle to the coast. Boat to Bocas Del Torro (Carribean Island of dreams)

Day 6: Full day of R&R on Bocas Del Torro. White beaches, food and yes, the drinks are free. 

All looks pretty do-able. On paper. The point is this. Myself, Darren and Jim had been travelling and running now for almost 2 weeks. We had already covered over 200km on foot through some extremely tough environments. There were no rest days. Our bodies were shot, but our minds were sharp. We were all 100% focused on getting to that island. We were all 100% in it for the long haul. Our fresh new buddies, Merlin, Rob and James would spur us on and bring new energy. We would all make it to that island and we would all get very drunk. That was the plan.  But sometimes, things don’t go to plan. And sometimes, they REALLY don’t go to plan. 

Day 11 - 50km run from Las Olas to Chiriqui

Sunrise of the first day of Panama Coast to Coast

Sunrise of the first day of Panama Coast to Coast

Having arrived at our amazing hotel in the dark (AGAIN), we had yet another 5am alarm call. We wanted to start running at 7 and James had to get his epic starting shots. We meet on the beach as the sun is rising. I am aching all over but excited to get a bit of road running done. Merlin is the most excited man on earth - I love him. His excitement lifts me and Darren up more that I though possible. The sunrise is beautiful and, at 7am, we turn away from the Atlantic and start the journey across Panama.

And we’re off. Photo: James Appleton

And we’re off. Photo: James Appleton

Merlin and Darren are boys. We all know this. Off they go together, way ahead of me, grabbing their 9 min miles while they could. I stayed behind, trotting along the road at ultra (slow) pace, taking in the beauty of the Panamanian countryside. I was tired and achey, but pretty content. It was hot and, although I was happy to have some tarmac under my feet, it served only to bounce the heat up, making it feel hotter than it was. I had learnt a lot from Namibia, so was drinking a lot of water and taking a shit tonne of salt. I had snacks and tunes. I was happy. There was a lot to look at. Huge birds flew overhead and huge rivers flowed under the bridges. There were cows and horses in the fields, and some of the streets were lined with amazing houses, brightly coloured with children on the porches and dogs EVERYWHERE.

The joy of a semi tarmac road. Oh and a volcano

The joy of a semi tarmac road. Oh and a volcano

Everyone I passed was friendly, with the cars honking their horns and the kids waving at me. As the hours went by it got hotter and hotter. My suntan lotion was being sweated off faster than I could put it on, and I could feel myself burning. I was on my own, but looking after myself. Water, salt, water, salt, snack. Every so often, Rob would swing by in the support vehicle and James would shout some abuse at me, but I was taking it easy and making sure I could function.

Good doggos doing the guarding.

Good doggos doing the guarding.

Jim had set off an hour ahead of us that morning. He had a set 4kmph pace and he was sticking with it. Eventually, after a few hours, I caught up with him and then, soon after, Merlin. Merlin is a monster with a massive pedigree. He’s won OCR’s and ultras. He’s got a super fast marathon time and he is the loveliest man I have ever met. But he has one thing that will always fuck him over on these events. Merlin is ginger. The heat was getting to him and short of putting a hazmat suit on, it was impossible for him not to burn. He had slowed right down, but seemed to be coping, so I didn’t have to shout abuse at him, and I kept trotting on. At about 25km, the support vehicle came into view and I could see Darren. He had shot off and seemed to be having a really good day. I was loving everything. I was still tired, but with no time pressure and a huge amount of self care, I felt like I was doing really well. I ate a massive amount of food at the car, and waited for Jim and Merlin and then we all set off together, with Darren out front. 

A happy little face coming to the support vehicle about 13 miles in.

A happy little face coming to the support vehicle about 13 miles in.

Things stared to get a little more rural - lots more dogs (yay) and loads of streams and waterfalls. Today had been pretty flat. There were some slow inclines, but it was a good first day. I eventually caught up with Darren whose phone battery had run out (it’ll do that if you keep taking selfies, Dazzler) and he was a bit lost. We ran along together having a chat and generally enjoying ourselves. At one point we decided we were thirsty for sports drink, so stopped for a beer in one of the local shops. Nobody spoke any english, so I ended up googling a picture of Panama lager on my phone. It worked. The international language of beer photos.

We trotted on together, not fast but having a nice time,. We stopped in a river for a swim and before we knew it, we had reached the bus stop that marked the end of the first day. That was lovely. We had a lovely time, plus we had managed to do 27 miles in just over 6 hours, which I was proper chuffed with. Our feet looked like this. 

We’re not in the jungle yet, kids…..

We’re not in the jungle yet, kids…..

After about an hour, Merlin and Jim arrived in really good spirits. We all got in the car to the jungle lodge, which was about 90 mins away. Tomorrow, the car would bring us back here to continue where we had left off. We’d all had a great day. If this sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. This is the start of a horror film. 

Merlin and I, living our best lives at the bus stop. #iwokeuplikethis  Photo: James Appleton

Merlin and I, living our best lives at the bus stop. #iwokeuplikethis Photo: James Appleton

Turns out the jungle lodge is one of the most spectacular places on earth. It is 10km up a dirt track that takes an hour to drive up in a 4x4 - it’s that rocky and steep. It was on the drive up that James decided to get out of the car and run up it, top off, like a human springbok. I have never seen anything like it. That man is an animal, and even though I was proud of what I had achieved that day, watching him sprint up that hill effortlessly, at 7 min miles, brought me firmly back down to earth. He is a true athlete. At the top of the hill, in the clouds, was the lodge. At 6,300ft, Mount Totumas Cloud Forest is the highest eco lodge in Panama. It is beyond prose. I’ve put a link to it here so you can judge for yourselves. This was our home for two nights.

View from the balcony of the Cloud Forest Lodge. No pictures will do it justice.

View from the balcony of the Cloud Forest Lodge. No pictures will do it justice.

Outside the glass walls, the clouds passed by, as hummingbirds buzzed around like bees. We were all dumbstruck by it’s beauty. This place is a labour of love, and one of the best places in the to see some of the rarest birds in the world. I could have sat on the balcony forever. The fridge was stocked with beer and wine, and the showers were basically outside. That night we ate dinner and laughed and relaxed. The next day would be hard, but with amazing food in our stomachs and a few beers in our bellies we were happy. We’ve got this, I thought. We can do this. 

Day 12 - 50km run from Chiriqui to Mount Totumas

Another 4.45 wake up call for the 90 min journey back to where we finished yesterday. Another day of creaking limbs and slow stretching. It was at this point that I started taking notice of my massive kit fail at Heathrow. Half the stuff that I had thought I brought with me, I had not. I had hardly any running kit. The lodge had very kindly done a kit wash for us, but looking at what I had, I realised that I was short a lot of leggings and long tops. I needed these for the jungle stage. I wanted full body cover. I decided not to worry about it. But I can’t not worry. The worry was there, and tomorrow we had to go into the jungle.

Todays run was all uphill (almost 6000ft uphill it seems), on roads. I was worried and mega tired. I was not mentally there, and that is my own fault. I started the day in a mood. I started the day not believing I could do it. I also just wanted to stay at the lodge. It was so beautiful there. I just wanted a day resting, watching the clouds. Fuck you, wonder lodge. 

Start of day two and James makes me run along this. Fuck you, James. Photo: James Appleton

Start of day two and James makes me run along this. Fuck you, James. Photo: James Appleton

The car dropped us off at the bus stop and drove off. Here we go again. 27 miles of road. To cut a long story short, I didn’t have a great day. I was alone for a lot of it, and much slower than the day before. There were rickety bridges. The hills were MENTAL and swirled upwards forever and, having 50km of roads in my legs already (AND THE REST, BAILEY!), I had totally gone off them. Although I had tried to look after myself the day before, on reflection, I had gone too fast. 

Ups and downs. All day.

Ups and downs. All day.

It was, however, beautiful. It was like being in one of those car ads, where they whizz down roads on the edge of mountains. The houses were still there, the wonderful villages and people. At one point I found this tiny puppy outside a house and gave him a cuddle. 

There is always a light (puppy) at the end of the tunnel (road)

There is always a light (puppy) at the end of the tunnel (road)

Views though……

Views though……

There were goats, baby cows, and lots of dead snakes on the road. I was trying to take it in - trying to convince myself I was living, because I was. But I was lonely, and really far behind Darren and Merlin. I felt a bit shit about myself. Eventually I reached the town that we had driven through on the way to the lodge. Not far now, I thought. But it is far when you’re not in a car. It is very far indeed. It’s all up winding roads, up hills. And this leg demanded that the last 10km was up the rocky hill to the lodge. 

Darren and Merlin had left notes on the road, scratched in white chalky stones. I loved them. They made me realise that we were a team, and nobody was judging anyone else. They made me smile and spurred me on.

The nicest thing to happen to me all day. Apart from the puppy.

The nicest thing to happen to me all day. Apart from the puppy.

Eventually, I turned another impossible corner and Darren was running towards me. He had been there for ages, but he was running up to meet me so we could do the last 10km together. I wanted to punch him and cuddle him at the same time - a common theme in my ultra relationship with Darren. Merlin was on top form too. So James, Merlin, Darren and I “ran” the last 10km together, up that fucker of a hill to the lodge. I walked when I had to, ran when I could. It was brilliant to be back with the boys. My sense of hope was coming back. But the jungle was there at the back of my mind. Tonight I had to pack everything I would need for 3 days self sufficient. All the food, clothes, hammock, sleeping bag, first aid, water, everything I would need. What would we be facing in there? I was scared. I was exhausted. I had no clue what was coming up. The boys were funny and made me laugh. On the way to the lodge, James kept making us run through a river to do the same shot over and over again. But I was with my team, and I felt so much better.  If you’re wondering, he got his shot.

Worth the wet feet? Yeah I guess so……. Photo: James Appleton

Worth the wet feet? Yeah I guess so……. Photo: James Appleton

Back at the lodge, I had work to do. I had to pack the jungle bag. I had naively chosen the Ultimate Direction Fastback 35 as my jungle bag. I was sure 35 litres would be enough. Rick was there for a hammock lesson, so between learning how to put one up and feeling like I could sleep for a thousand years, I tried to sort out kit. Sorting kit on a tired brain is very fucking hard, as we proved in the Heathrow episode. I kept making piles and then changing the piles and then making another pile. I didn’t have the right kit. I would need full body coverage in the jungle, and only had one pair of leggings and one long sleeved top. I had stupidly left the others in Jims car. In addition to that, on the flight from Panama City to Las Olas, one of the jars of isotonic powder had exploded on the food packets, so I had to wash them all (all 60 of them) to prevent them turning into sticky monstrosities in the jungle, thus attracting ant friends. Heres what the tuck shop looked like on the floor of my bathroom.

Freshly washed food.

Freshly washed food.

I couldn’t concentrate on one task, so I tried to do 7 at once, and did none of them properly. I eventually managed to pack my bag, but it was almost bursting. I tried it on, and it hurt to wear. I realised that it wasn’t big enough, and I was going to need to re-pack, using my 60 litre Karrimor backpack in order to fit my bladder in. My UD bag, however amazing it was, just wasn’t going to cut it. I needed a lot of support on my hips and so was going to have to take the bigger one. Once I had packed it, it weighed in at around 20kg. It was at this point that I realised I had never attempted to carry this kind of weight for any distance, other than the distance from my flat to the tube station. I just hadn’t thought about how heavy it would be. Our two local guides had arrived to meet us. Tiny, super fit humans who live and work in the jungle every day. Their names were Moises and Elvin. They spoke no english and looked hard as fucking nails. They were there to help navigate and attempt to keep us safe. They took one look at my bag, pointed at me and laughed. I will never forget that. Fuck you, I thought. I WILL carry that bag. (Side note - this was an over reaction my part - I fucking love those guys now). That night we sat down for dinner with Rick and looked at the map. This is the map. 

Map. It’s very, very green. Top right, our local guides. Moses and Elvin. Hardest men in the world.

Map. It’s very, very green. Top right, our local guides. Moses and Elvin. Hardest men in the world.

It made literally NO sense to me. It was all green. Turns out it made no sense to anyone. Everyone was nervous. We packed and repacked and packed and repacked again. We chose our meals. The boys sharpened their machetes (not a euphamism). We would be in the jungle for “3 days” so took 4.5 days worth of rations in individual wet pouches. Just in case. Thank fuck we did that. We took a breakfast, a lunch and a dinner plus a pudding for every night. That’s 18-19 pouches of wet food in such delicious flavours as ‘Beans ’n’ Burgers’ and ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’. It’s a lot of weight. Then factor in everything else you need to bring. And the 3 litres of water you should be carrying. James and I decided against puddings - it was extra weight and we had the ultimate - THE JAR OF NUTEELLA - REMEMBER HIM???. That would be our pudding. One spoon a night. The other item I decided not to take was my sandals. I woudn’t need them in the jungle. It was extra weight. They were a luxury. This was to become one of my biggest regrets. The only shoes I had were my Salomon Jungle Ultra boots. 

James had to carry not only his pack, but also his cameras - making his weight 10kg more than anyone else. He’s tiny. He’s fit, but he is tiny. He also runs on sugar. I had a bit of room in my big bag, so took 2 cans of red bull for him. This small gesture would pay dividends later on in the saga. It pays to be kind, people. Remember that. 

In all the packing and brain hurtyness, I had forgotten I had a hotspot on my foot that, as I walked round the lodge, was getting worse. When I looked there was a huge fluid filled blister on the ball on my right foot. FUCK. I never, ever get blisters. This was my fault. I knew I had grit in my shoe, I knew my feet were wet but I didn’t clear my trainers out. In my mentalness, I decided to compeed it, and see how it was in the morning. This was totally stupid. Compeed is prevention, not cure. I wasn’t thinking straight. Even with the compeed on, I was limping. How was I supposed to wear jungle boots for 3 days with my foot feeling like this? I convinced myself it would be better in the morning using mainly a beer.

So we had dinner, a last shower and went to bed. Tomorrow would be the start of our total immersion in the jungle. But it’s only three days. Only. Three. Days. 

The Namibia/Panama Crossings - The Panama Canal Traverse, Day 9

Before we get started on the Panama leg, a word on being “tired and trying to get your shit together”. We arrived at Heathrow from Cape Town at around 7am, picked up our disgusting, sweaty, sandy bags, and headed to the car park where Jim had parked his car. The challenge was to dump all the Namibia kit, and repack the bags with our Panama kit. I had (I thought) diligently packed 2 bags, so all I would need to do was swap the stuff in my rucksack out for the stuff in my suitcase (which was the car, obvs). But I was very tired, jet lagged, stressed and a bit confused, so this task was akin to doing a rubiks cube after 5 pints of lager.

 Once at the car, we emptied our bags onto the floor and began to play a fun game of kit jenga. I couldn’t get my head around what it was that I needed to take. Would it be hot or cold? How wet would it be? Should I take the old food and the new food or just the new food? How many days kit would I need? Just one or everything? Should I take 2 pairs of trainers or one? What day was it? ARGH!  Bear in mind I had this all sorted in my head before I left for Namibia, it was just now it all seemed so impossible. Around me, Darren and Jim were doing the same thing so the floor of the car park looked like the worlds shittest jumble sale. I did my best, separated bits into dry bags and thought that I had done a good job. That was until I got to Panama - more on that later. 

After hiding the BA lounge and wondering if it was OK to have a glass of wine at 9am (it was), we got on the plane to Miami, where we had a stopover, before arriving in Panama City for our transfer to the Melia Hotel - AKA the words WEIRDEST hotel. Everything was late. We were waiting to meet the rest of our team, and they were there alright. Their luggage, however, was not. We waited about 6 hours in the airport to get hold of the luggage. Panama City airport has very little in the way on entertainment or places to lay down. No rest day for us. Bye bye swimming pool time.

L-R: Jim, James. Rob, Merlin and Darren looking at maps. Waiting for luggage.

L-R: Jim, James. Rob, Merlin and Darren looking at maps. Waiting for luggage.

Having lost Dani and Handsome Pete (both way too sensible to come to the jungle) our new team consisted of the lovely Rob Atikin (Rat Race Event Director and all round legend), Merlin Duff (OCR king and funniest man on earth) and James Appleton (Super fast fell runner and photographer of all things wonderful). Merlin was going to attempt both traverses with myself, Jim and Darren, Rob was going to do the second crossing and crew us for the first, and James was going to film the whole thing and show us what real runners are capable of in the process. We also met Rick who was going to be our guy on the ground for both events. Rick often takes trips (DAY TRIPS) into the jungle - he’s like the Ray Mears of Panama - but he had never done anything like this before. 

Once we finally had the luggage, we got in the van and drove to the hotel, stopping off at a supermarket for supplies for the first crossing. This was a bit like letting a bunch of ravenous school children run around a sweet shop. It was here that James bought a jar of Nutella. That jar of Nutella is very important. Do not forget about that jar of Nutella.  We arrived at the hotel in the dark. This was to become a theme in Panama. We only ever saw the places we slept in the dark. The Melia Hotel on the Panama Canal was formerly known as the ‘School of the Americas’, and was a US-funded institution that trained some of Latin America's infamous dictators. It was so massive, so creepy and so empty. We were the only people in there and it must have had 200 huuuuge rooms. It was too late for dinner, so we ate snacks and were then informed that we would have to be up at 4.45am to attempt the first traverse. This was one of the first times that I felt like punching Jim in the face. There would be plenty more times in the coming week. We had 4 hours to get some sleep. 

Morning!

Morning!

As an aside, this traverse is NOT part of the Bucket List event - we just wanted to see if it was possible. The planned route goes like this. Starting at the Atlantic Ocean, near Colon (quiet at the back) we were to run 6 miles to the Gatun Lake (a major part of the Panama canal), jump in a kayak, row 9 miles to the edge of the jungle, get out and run/hike/hack 13 miles (spoiler - it was a lot further than 13 miles) through jungle, along the Panama pipeline, until we popped out at Gamboa, then run 13 miles to the end of the Panama pipeline near the City of Knowledge/Panama City and the Pacific Ocean. So all in, about 41 miles ish in a day, crossing a country. Seems easy right? Seems doable? Please note, Jim has attempted this twice and failed. That is what was supposed to happen. Here is what actually happened. 

My 5am start face

My 5am start face

We reluctantly got up at 4.45am to start the first 6 mile run. It was dark and hot and humid and we were all already VERY tired and hungry - breakfast was a yogurt bought from the shop the day before and a small muffin. We just about managed to get some coffee out of the hotel. I was suddenly aware I was running with 3 very fit blokes. As my 3 regular readers know, I’m not very fast at all, I was tired and ratty and I now felt like I was under quite a lot of pressure. I let the boys get on with it and run ahead, and to be honest we all took it relatively easy in the end - a nice little warm up along Panamas roads, to the edge of Lake Gatun, where the kayaks were waiting. I’ve never been in a kayak, which is a fun fact. Lucky Darren got me as a kayak partner. He was thrilled.  They put me at the front and Darren at the back, so I was in charge of setting the pace - I THOUGHT he would have to do all the work - I was very wrong. 

Lake Gatun. Kayak Time!

Lake Gatun. Kayak Time!

The lake was beautiful and still. It’s man made, and so has the tops of trees poking out of the water, where birds sit and occasionally dive for fish. As I said, it’s a major part of the Panama canal, created between 1907 and 1913 to enable ships to pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific. At the time it was built (is that the right word?) it was the largest man made lake in the world.  As we set off, we could hear Howler monkeys everywhere. We were flanked on either side by thick jungle and it looked amazing. It was serene, stunning and calm. But we all knew what else lived in that water. Crocodiles. Lots of them.  

After 6 miles of kayaking (which, it turns out, is quite tiring) we pulled up to the shore and changed from our running shoes into our jungle boots and kit. I pulled on some waterproof trousers over my leggings, put my boots and gators on and was immediately boil-in-the bag Bailey. We got back in the kayaks, and made our way to a tiny clearing off the lake - as we pulled in, a huge crocodile wacked it’s tail out of the water and swam off. He was not happy to see us. I was pretty excited to see him, but he was having none of it. He was the second crocodile we had seen on the way to the jungle, but I was weirdly not scared. The kayaks seemed pretty sturdy and I’m not sure we would have provided much of a snack for them. We’d not really had any breakfast. 

Kayak parking. Not easy.

Kayak parking. Not easy.

The second I set foot in the jungle, I knew it was going to be really fucking hard. The damp, deep leaf litter gave way under our boots. The trees were covered with ants and spiders and there was no path that anyone could make out. We had a local guy with us who had run this route before. Not, it turned out, very recently, Everything was overgrown, wet and decaying and within 30 minutes we all silently acknowledged that this was going to be a very long day. 

Here’s me doing an explain before I realised how horrendous my life choices were.

The reason you don’t grab the trees

The reason you don’t grab the trees

It’s so hard to explain what it’s like in there. The first thing I will say is it’s hot, humid and everything is wet. Everything including your feet. They will now be wet forever. There is mud - a lot of it. It is not flat, it goes up and down all the time - the downs being very, very difficult to navigate. You slip and slide down, and there is nothing to hold onto. All the trees are covered in either insects or long spikes, so you can’t grab them. We fell over a lot. There are lots of very high bridges, that are rotten, partially fallen down. You have to guess where to put your feet to avoid going through them. We had big packs on, filled with litres of water and snacks. In my head, 13 miles was nothing. In the jungle, it may as well have been 50 miles. It’s very, very slow going. 

Welcome to the Jungle. Yes, that is a bridge. Yes, we do have to cross it. Yes, it IS rotten and very high up.

Welcome to the Jungle. Yes, that is a bridge. Yes, we do have to cross it. Yes, it IS rotten and very high up.

This. For 18 miles.

This. For 18 miles.

We were “following” the pipeline, but finding it was difficult. We were all on the verge of dehydrating, and had to keep topping our bladders up in streams and rivers, plus we were eating snacks way too fast. I was taking salt tabs every two hours, but still felt totally drained. We kept having to stop and check the GPS co-ordinates, we were tired and ratty, and didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. There were fallen trees everywhere, and getting over them was a gamble - the huge trunks would either hold, or you would fall through rotten bark, and be covered in ants and termites, up to your waist in insects. Then you would have to get out. At one point, we were all so hot we made our way down to a river and just got in it - it didn’t matter that we were now 100% soaking wet, it was just too hot to function. The few minutes cool gave us all a second wind. For about five minutes. 

There were moments of wonder and glory. Like watching the ants going about their business, and having discussions about how they could actually take over the world. These moments were few and far between. And most of these conversations I THINK I actually had with myself. Like this…..

We trekked on and on, dripping in sweat, and eventually it started to become VERY obvious that this was not a 13 mile section. It was a lot longer than that. We had started to run out of food - there was no way crew could get in to help us. Rob was meeting us on the other side of the jungle with the van. And the food was in the van. I started to worry about the second traverse. How could anyone survive in here for more than a few hours? How would we survive for four days? 

Looks a bit like a pipe…..is actually a “path”

Looks a bit like a pipe…..is actually a “path”

It was relentless. We trekked on and on, staying together as a group, sometimes breaking off for the “runable” bits. It started to get dark. My watch ran out of battery. I didn’t know how far I had come, or how far we had left to go. As it got darker, the bats and monkeys came out. I could hear them but not see them. My mind started to go, and I started to hallucinate big black cats and things flying at my face. At this point I was on my own - Jim was behind me and Merlin, Darren and James ahead. It was horrible. Not knowing where the end of this leg and the van were was horrible. I was so hungry and thirsty.  See below for my sense of humour failure.

After what seemed like forever, I could hear voices. It was getting really dark now - we had been in the jungle for around 10 hours. I came round the corner and then saw Merlin, James and Darren sitting on the ground. We were out of the jungle, but there was no van. There was, however, a shit load of mosquitos. And they were all over us. The van had apparently been waiting for us for hours, and Rob had decided to go and grab some food. We called him back, and after 30 minutes he was there. We were all hungry and very, very tired and we still had a 13 mile road section to complete the traverse. It was at this stage that people started to talk about if they could actually go on. It was all I could think about. I could just get in the van. I could just get in, and go to sleep. I was so, so empty.  I felt like crying. In fact I may have even had a cry. I was irrational and angry we’d had to wait, and I couldn’t see how I would be able to run another 13 miles with an empty tank and an empty mind. I so nearly pulled the plug. So nearly. But I didn’t. I silently took my boots off, changed my socks, ate a massive bag of pretzels, drank a litre of water and a coke, changed my top and got my head torch out.  Fuck this. I have never DNF’d and I wasn’t going to do it now.  My feet were white and wrinkled. They looked like the feet you see poking out of the end of gurneys in Silent Witness. I poured alcohol on them, let them dry and hoped for the best. I would deal with them after I had done this 13 mile section. And I would do this section. 

Lonely old 13 miles of roads ahead.

Lonely old 13 miles of roads ahead.

Everyone was silent as we set off in the dark. It was that kind of party. Darren, James and Merlin went off ahead of me.  Again, I was on my own as I started running. It was so nice to be back on roads. I say that, it wasn’t so great when my head torch batteries decided to run out. My spares were in the support van. I spent at least 4 miles running down unlit Panamanian dual carriageways, using my iPhone as a light. My backup torch was also in the van. Ultra brain. It’ll fuck you right up. After about 5 miles, I spotted the support vehicle at the side of the road - GREAT - I could change my batteries!. I was actually starting to feel better. It was good to get the legs going again, and the salt from the pretzels was kicking in. I was sort of enjoying myself again (although I felt drunk with tiredness). It was the classic thing - I wasn’t letting my body stop - I had told it that this was how it was going to be, so my body had to get on with it, and my mind was following.  My ultra strop was over and the end was in sight.  At the side of the vehicle, I spotted Merlin sitting down, head in his hands. He did not look good. Darren was talking to him and Rob was trying to get him to drink water. Merlin was done. He was saying he was going to get in the car. I wasn’t having any of this. I’d just taken two caffeine bullets and was high as a fucking kite on caffeine. I offered Merlin a cuddle (no), some sweets (no), my last caffeine bullet (yes), some drugs (no) and then I offered to tell him he was a fucking pussy and needed to get on with it.  That seemed to work. He started to get up. 

I changed my batteries and trotted off like a shetland pony. James came with me. I was now very aware that I was running with one of the UK’s best fell runners, and that put a rocket up me. We ran along (well I ran, James jogged) chatting about stuff and rubbish and it was brilliant. The route was horrible - along roads and busy dual carriageways, but I had got into my stride now. It was almost the end.

Turning off the dual carriageway to see the Pacific shining in the dark was amazing. It was about 9pm. We had been going for almost 17 hours and we had done it. We had crossed Panama. We were the first people to have traversed the pipeline in a day. Merlin and Darren came in about 35 minutes later and I was so happy to see them.  We were all so elated. We were like ghosts of our former selves. We looked pale, thin and done in. Covered in mud, blood and sweat. But we were overjoyed. Rob joined us in the van and told us Jim was still going about an hour behind us - of course he was - he never gives up. 

Here’s a little video to show how mashed up I was. I sound like I’m drunk, and forgot to turn my phone round. But you get the idea.

We got in the van, and Rob drive us to out hotel for the night - once again we go there in the dark. Ace. The poor woman at reception looked at us like we had just appeared out of a bog. It was at that point we realised how muddy and disgusting we actually were. And we needed to get our shit together, because we had a flight the next day, taking us to Los Olas and the start of our second traverse. 

We washed our kit in the showers (sorry again to the hotel…..) and managed to get the receptionist to order us a pizza from the local takeaway. It took AGES for the smallest pizza in the world to arrive, but with that, a hot shower and a couple of beers, all was almost forgotten. Almost. 

Jim arrived, and we were all together again. I swear that was one of the best nights sleep I ever had. One days rest (I say that, it was one day’s flying) and we would have to start the whole thing again. 

The Namibia/Panama Crossings - Man vs Table Mountain, Day 7

Coming back to the real world after being in what was essentially semi-solitary confinement for 5 days was weird. We were all in a sort of daze at the cars and shops and people of Swapkomund. Having a proper shower was the best thing ever. We were all completely exhausted. That night we went out for dinner with the crew and then slept, before getting up and attempting to sort out our filthy, sand and mud covered kit. I would like to apologise to whoever had to clean those rooms. After stuffing it all into bags the best we could, we headed out for the tiny airport and caught a (very delayed) flight to Cape Town, where we would spend one night before attempting the big 3 - Signal Hill , Lions Head  and Table Mountain 

The idea was to see how long it would take us to get up and over all 3 on foot (spoiler - it took me over 5 hours). This time, the victims were just Darren and myself - Dani and Jim made the genius decision to take the time to recover, and handsome Pete had to head home - so apologies for all the rubbish pictures. My personal photographer had better things to do. The idea was to get up early and start the run and then head straight to the airport to catch our flight back to the UK where we would have 6 hours to wait before out flight to Panama. In that time we would have to swap out kit - we had left our Panama kit in the back of Jim’s car at Heathrow. We were going to try and dump the Namibia stuff we wouldn’t use, and pack the essential Panama kit we needed. Hectic right? 

The thing about air travel is that unless you are travelling in business it is NOT conducive to recovery after these huge runs. Every flight is painful. Trying to sleep while your legs ached and pinged, worrying you would not get enough rest to be able to attempt what was coming next. I would go as far as to say the flights were actually part of the challenge. Especially when they hadn’t changed the film choices. 

At dinner the night before the run, we discussed the route. We were to head up and over Signal Hill, up and over Lions Head and then up to the top of Table Mountain and get the cable car down. It was over 6,000ft of elevation across 9 miles on very tired legs, up hills with my favourite things in the world on them - ridges. Ridges and drops. I tried to block out this thought by drinking wine. That was the sensible thing to do. 

The next morning Darren and I set off after breakfast, along roads and straight up the worlds longest steps. They weren’t  ACTUALLY the worlds longest, they just felt like it. 

And so it begins……again……

I was already NOT HAVING NICE TIME. There are no proper paths up Signal Hill - you sort of scrabble up and I didn’t like it at all. To be frank, Signal Hill is a bit of a shit show on the edge of Cape Town. There are NO tourists there, loads of littler and it feel like the sort of place I used to go and drink Strongbow when I was 13. I was tired and scared of the ledges that were up ahead of me. Once at the top, there was an amazing view of Lions Head and Table Mountain. As beautiful as it was, I was still bricking it.  I decided there and then I was not going to get too the top of Lions Head - I would be too scared and it wasn’t worth it. It’s important to know your limits, and and I know that getting up there would mean nothing to me except a possible panic attack and having to be rescued. I would go as far as I could, and then loop round and come down. I didn’t need to stand on the top of a tiny rock to prove anything to anyone. 

Signal Hill from the bottom of Lions Head 

Lions Head and table mountain in the background

It was a beautiful day with amazing visibility, and Darren was loving it - he’s a big fan of rocks and ridges - and this just made me feel even more shit. Why couldn’t I be more like him? Why did I have such an issue with drops and ledges? I felt like a total idiot. I felt, once again, like I wasn’t good enough. I let Darren run on ahead of me like a fell goat, and I plodded on feeling like Mr Blobby at a Crossfit session. I tried to take in the views, but at the back of my mind I felt like a bit of a failure. 

Camps Bay from halfway up Lions Head 

Some nice, “technical” trail…..

The trail up to Lions Head starts very friendly and lovely, but soon turns into craggy rocks on the edge of a big hill. There are people coming down towards you as you go up - I hate this - and so I focused on the floor. I imagined all the tourists laughing at me huffing my way up in running gear. Every now and again, I would look up at the view whilst leaning on the solid side of the mountain to avoid the possibility I might throw myself off. It was both mesmerising and terrifying. I probably got about 500 ft from the summit before I stopped and hid on a ledge for a bit. I waited for Darren to come back down for 10 mins, but them decided to make my own way down and head up Table Moutain. I had stupidly run out of water and it was very hot. 

Views alright though……

The trot down was a lot easier - the paths were wider and they were runable but my legs were shattered and running hurt. How the hell was I supposed to do another 300km on them? At the bottom of Lions Head, I crossed the road the saw there was a tap that was dripping water, so I filled up my flasks and started to try and find the trail up Table Mountain. At this point it all looked a bit like the New Forest, and after a few false starts I found the trail that would take me up - and joy of joys it was ALL steps. ARGH! STEPS! 

Table Mountain trails 

I was totally on my own now, and I felt better for it - I could take it at my pace and get on with what I needed to do - and that was get to the top. I could be as slow as I wanted, as long as I got there. This is a reminder that you are the one that judges yourself, and yes it is easier to do that negatively when other people are there, but ultimately you have control over your thoughts. The flora and vegetation were beautiful and I decided to try and enjoy it - and for a little while, I did. 

There were some amazing bushes and flowers and hardly anyone else on the trail. I met a good few lizard friends, some of them bright green and red, some of them blending into the rocks. The path up to Table Mountain is steep - steeper than Snowdon - but loops round, with little waterfalls everywhere and places to sit for a minute. And then the sheer drops start.

Hullo?

Spot the lizard…..

Regular readers of this blog (all 3 of you - hi mum!) will know that I have this stupid fear of heights and drops. I have tried and tried to get over it - most notably last year when I had a near meltdown on Arran. I don’t know what it is about them, but I am terrified of big drops, narrow paths and cliff edges. I feel like I am going to either fall down or throw myself off. I have to use my hands to guide me, stare at the rock face and not look down. It’s ridiculous. The thing about being halfway up Table Mountain when the ridges start is you can’t do anything about it - you either get to the top or you go back. And I was NOT going back. Because that would mean looking down. The funny thing is, looking back on this as I write it, the vertical scrambles seemed like the hardest thing the world. They were, on reflection, simply a tasty warm up for what was to come in Panama. 

Some of the ascent featured vertical scrambles up rocks - I used my bands and tried to control my breathing and be nice to all the people coming down the other way. I tried to make funny jokes with them, but my voice sounded weird. I was hungry now - really hungry - and because it had been billed as 9 miles I hadn’t bought anything to eat with me. The hunger and anxiety bought on the shakes. I’m a fucking idiot sometimes. As I turned a corner I could see the cloud was coming in - sweeping the top of the mountain, and I was headed straight for it. Suddenly I heard my name being shouted from behind me - it was Darren. I could have sworn he was in front of me?? He had been doing parkour or some shit at the top of Lions Head, and so WAS actually behind me and he had FOOD! He stopped and checked to see if I was ok (I wasn’t), chucking me a few shot bloks  and a bit of cliff bar (noms) and then trotted off ahead of me - like the fell goat he is. In my head I had thought I was near the summit - turns out I was still an hour away and now I couldn’t see the summit. All I could see was cloud.

Staring up into hell…..

I dealt with the next couple of miles by counting steps, resting when I could and trying to stay calm. I wished I had bought my headphones. Eventually, the vertical scrambles stopped and I realised I was at the top. In the cloud. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face and was convinced I was going to fall off the edge. The top of Table Moutain is of course, flat. I was not going to fall anywhere. There was no edge.

Finally at the top. 

Cloud hiding the imaginary edge 

I followed the path until suddenly the cloud completely cleared and I could see the cafe and cable car at the top. Thank fuck. I had done it - I was there. I met up with Darren and went straight to the cafe for a rehydration beer. I met some of the locals who live at the top of the mountain - the dassies - fun little animals that look like a cross between a gerbil and a beaver. They lounge around on the rocks at the top. They are funny. They are brave. 

Gah! Dassies!

View from the top…..

Cable car down……

What is also funny (or not) is the way I processed what I had just done. I didn’t congratulate myself for getting there, I beat my self up for how long it had taken me and what a total wimp I had been. I managed to take some photos from the top, and did a little ‘positive vibes’ video for the Bad Boy Running lot, but ultimately, my overall feeling was disappointment in myself for not having done it better. I was tired, physically and mentally from the previous week, and possibly (no shit) irrational at this point, but I just felt massively disappointed with myself. I still sort of do. 

We got the cable car down and met up with Jim and Dani who droves us and our sweaty, disgusting selves to the airport. We were due to fly from Cape Town back to Heathrow and I need a shower. BUT there was a water shortage in Cape Town so all the showers at the airport were switched off. The thought of sitting on plane for 10 hours in this state made me want to cry. But superhero Jim to the rescue - he managed to smuggle both me and Darren into the business class lounge for showers and food. 

So that was it - goodbye South Africa. Man Vs Table Mountain is definitely worth doing if you like that wort of thing. Believe me, I will go back and do it again. I will keep doing the things that scare me until they don’t scare me anymore. That might mean I am doing them forever, but so be it. 

The plane arrives and I sleep for the full 10 hours home.  Which is good because shit is about to get really, really real. 

Pretending to have a nice time at the top of Table Mountain. 

The Namibia/Panama Crossings Part Two. The Desert, Day 5

DAY 5 Conception - The wreck of the Eduard Bohlen - 9 miles (AKA Look Mum, I Crossed A Desert!)

I wake up with a HANGOVER because I am not used to drinking wine anymore. Just a baby hangover, but a baby one when you have a desert to finish crossing is still a pain in the arse. Coffee and salt tabs for breakfast plus a bit of granola - and we are off. Darren is fresh as anything, so he whizzes ahead to try and catch Dani and Jim. I realise that I am going to be alone for a lot of today. Not sure if that’s a good thing. I don’t feel mentally strong, but there you go. It is what it is.  That’s life. 

It’s a grey morning and I struggle to find the footprints that Dani and Jim have left for us. The dunes have more of less flattened out now - they are more undulating than mega frustrating, and it’s cold, because we are heading to the coast - I have 2 layers on. It feels like a different life to the one we were living yesterday. I trek away on my own, with my own weird thoughts. They are thoughts of pride, mixed with the inability to accept what I have done. Feelings of ‘who the fuck cares’ and feelings that I should try and keep myself together. I want to sit and cry. 

The irony of runnable terrain when you are totally exhausted…

I trot over a small dune, and suddenly I can see and smell the sea. It’s almost too much for me to take in. It’s almost over. The smell ignites my childhood memories of holidays, and the mist is rolling in across the flat sand. It’s beautiful and bleak. 

I keep trotting on - not wanting it to end, but willing it to end at the same time. What will I do when I get to wreck? Will I cry? No, I can’t cry. I just want to cry at the moment. I am all out of snacks and everyone is ahead of me. I am last. Always last. 

Old German mining railway left to rot on the skeleton coasts salt plains

The sea is not getting any nearer, but I come over a dune towards some plains. The salt plains. They are wet and cold and salty. Do what they say on the tin. The sand drops away under my feet and it’s more like an estuary than a desert. In front of me, is what looks like water, but I have learnt not to trust the desert. Turns out that this time it IS water. My feet are very wet and my shoes are full of grit.  

Seem fine to walk on right? 

NOPE. 

The water gets deep quickly and is running fast. It has dead fish in it. It’s about calf deep now, and my radio comes into action. It’s Jim. He has already crossed it. He says it will take me 45 mins at least. I look at it, and, being mental and not being able to judge distance, think “nah, that’s ten mins”. It takes me 90 minutes to cross the fast flowing estuary and get to the support vehicle. I have no pictures or video of it, as my hands and phone were too wet and frankly, I was too exhausted to film it. 

One of the things I remember vividly about this trip is those 90 mins. It was so hard. Lifting your tired legs and feet out of wet, deep mud.  Feeling like you are going backwards, and having nobody to talk to. The support vehicle seemed like it was getting further and further away. It was horrible - really horrible. It’s something that in times of stress I will always recall. Relentless forward progress. You will get there. I stood and shouted the word ‘FUCK’ many, many times at the water. I hated it. 

Back on firmer land with unidentifiable dead shit. 

Eventually, I made it to firmer sand and got to the vehicle. I said very little to Danny and David. I wanted to change my socks - I had 3 miles to go, so really no need. I felt mental, and probably looked and talked like I was. My shoes were filled with grit and water and I did my best to dust them off. Danny and David told me it was only 5km to the end. I put my head down and started marching. And then I started to cry. 

I didn’t want to cry at the end. I wanted people to think I was cool and casual, not overwhelmed by what we had done. I don’t want people to think I am ‘girly’ or ‘weak’. So I cried on my own. the irony of this is that crying doesnt make you weak - it helps you remain strong. I know this now - I couldn’t compute it at the time.  

Vertebrae from a whales spine, the skeleton coast. 

I kept on marching, I wanted to see the things I had come to see. The whale bones that litter the skeleton coast. Old wine bottles, washed up from ships that met their fate here. I saw a lot of it. Jackals coming out of their holes to chase down baby seals. Pieces of wood and metal from vessels long gone. It was bleak, astonishing and humbling. A world lost in sand and time. 

Wine bottles in the sand 

Then, in the distance, I see it. The wreck of the Eduard Bohlen. He has sat there since 1909 when he was wrecked in thick fog. The Bohlen completely symbolises the loneliness of the Skeleton Coast. It’s remains lie rusting in the sand, partially buried. A home for jackals, bones of their prey scattered around the hull.  A symbol of the possible future of mankind. Once full of wonder and promise - now a wreck forgotten and alone. It’s a lot for me to think about. I think about how transient everything is. 


Whale bones hidden in sand

Whale bones covered in sand. Wreck of the Bohlen in the background.

I try and run, but my brain tells me no. I am done. Exhausted. I take in what is going on around me and march it in. Nothing here but the remnants of a once promising and golden future, that the people of the 1900’s would have been proud of. Old glass bottles against dead whale bones. All preserved, but meaning nothing now to the people they once meant the world to. 

But I’ve done it. I have fucking done it. I have become the first woman to cross the Namib Desert on this course from east to west. I hold it together, but the team form an arch with their hands, and I run through it. It’s over. They know I have been crying, they just don’t say it. 

An emotional little Bailoid tries to hold it together…

The finish line

I am given a beer, and I take a minute to calm myself down. The feelings that I have are not really for writing here, mainly because I don’t know how to write them. I am both proud and empty, I have forgotten the hard bits. 127 miles through one of the most hostile environments on earth. I am tired, so tired.  Race to the Wreck. I have done it. 

Knackered

Ghost ship.

Time is running out to leave - we have a 7 hour drive out of here. I don’t have much time to get myself together. I eat lunch, have a quick run around the wreck and wish I could stay here for a week investigating it all.  We get in the fun bus. We’re all very, very quiet. The drive back is one of the scariest thing about this trip. The fun bus going up and down dunes at what feels like vertical angles is terrifying. We pass a dead humpback whale on the shoreline, more wrecks, dead seals and hopeful jackals. It takes seven hours of driving across those dunes, but then, suddenly, we hit tarmac and we are back in the human world. 

Thats what a dead humpback whale looks like then…

More wrecks on the way out

Some casual driving on the way back….. FFS

We have one night in a hotel before we fly to Cape Town the following day. This journey is not over. One days travel and then its Man vs Table Mountain (or the Cape Town Three Peaks Challenge of Death as I have snappily renamed it). And that’s before we travel to Panama to attempt the double traverse in a journey that fundamentally changes everything for me.

So thanks for reading the first instalment of this ridiculous trip. If you want more info on the race it’s on sale now and I am happy to talk to  anyone about it - just get me on the website or social media. 

Next up on the blog: Man Vs Table Mountain

THANK YOU….. 

RAT RACE CREW

Massive thanks to Jim and Rob and the whole team at Rat Race for once again trusting me to trial one of their ridiculous ideas. This is a hard event, a really hard event, but totally achievable and I am honoured to have been part of the Test Pilot team and hope I have done you proud. I would recommend this to anyone who has ever sought to do more than just a desert multi-day. This is the real deal - an immersion in culture and a world first. And it’s on sale now, kids! Click here for details.

Thanks to Dani Brodie for representing the female side of endurance challenges with me - this was her first ever multi-day event - no pressure then, throw yourself in at the deep end why not? She handled it with style and enthusiasm, and in the end totally nailed the whole route. A total pleasure to be with, she provided some much needed female company on those nights round the brai, and I am so glad I got to spend this time with her. 

Handsome Pete Rees for making me laugh with his fear of pretty much everything, his health and safety lectures (NO IBUPROFEN BEFORE FOOD!) and providing us with top notch pictures and video that makes us look a lot more epic than we actually are. 

Lastly thanks to Darren - my adventure husband. It really is like being married - we constantly bicker and don’t sleep with each other. Magical. Darren - I know I can be an annoying rat, and so thanks for putting up with me and my stupid voices.  It’s good to know I have a constant to talk to when things get horrible and your support means the world. 

SUPPORT CREW

Eternal thanks to the crew put together by David Scott who runs Sandbaggers. Without their local and in depth knowledge of the Namib, we would never have made it. Without the expertise of the drivers, the trucks could not have made the journey over the dunes, carrying our supplies, tents and bags. I’ll be honest, some of those climbs in the car were touch and go….. and who the hell tries to run over an Ostrich? MONSTERS LIKE YOU, THAT’S WHO. 

The Namibia/Panama Crossings Part one: Travelling Tales….

The day I am due to travel, I wake up mega anxious, stressed and slightly hungover. I can’t concentrate on anything, even though I know everything is done. I packed yesterday and my work stuff is covered. I am so anxious that I don’t want to eat. I am packing and repacking stuff over and over again. Moving stuff around the flat for NO reason. I tell myself to go out and get a sandwich. I am packed, and the cab is not due for another 2 hours. I might even be able to squeeze in a pint with my pal Lucy. So out the door I go, patting my pocket with my keys in. Slam the door. Then the horror, as I realise the keys I have in my pocket are not my house keys at all. They are my OLD house keys. I rush round the back of the house and try and jimmy the window - no luck. I have left the house without anything but my phone and old keys. I can see all my packed bags sitting in the living room I have NO access too. I phone the landlord, but it’s a Sunday. I sit down. Think. I’m going to have to call a locksmith. So I do. And he charges me almost £300 to drill the lock off and replace it with a new one.  He turns up in twenty mins and I stand there watching him, biting my nails, looking at my watch. 

I didn’t want to ever meet this man. Locksmith ninja. 

He finishes, and I go for a very quick beer and small cry with Lucy before my cab arrives at 2pm. I’m really going now. I cannot believe that just happened. That was pretty horrible. But I dealt with it, right?! Surely that’s the hardest thing I will face? Right?

When I get to Heathrow, my fellow adventurers are there waiting. It’s Jim (Rat Race CEO and all round amazing human), his wife Dani (who I now have a massive girl crush on), Darren (you might remember him from Monglia) and me. Handsome Pete is doing the camera work, and he will join us later when we get to Namibia. I offload my Panama kit into their car - we will do a kit swap on our way back through Heathrow to Panama, which is great because I don’t fancy slogging around with 3 massive bags. One massive bag will do for now. 

Jim and Dani are planning to do both the bike and run stage in Namibia - it’s down to myself and Darren to see if the route is do-able solely on foot. 

Bit of background for you. The Namib Desert is the oldest desert in the world - 55 million years old and 81,000 square kms. It is 2000km long and, crucially for us, 200km wide. I say crucial, because that is what we are trying to do. Cross the width of the desert, from east to west. On the west coast lies the wreck of the Eduard Bolen. This is where we will finish. Fun fact, the Namib desert is home to the biggest dunes on earth, and is one of the most hostile environments on the planet. Even worse than Reading town centre at about 7pm. It’s hot, dry and full of things that may well kill you, if you don’t die of thirst or heatstroke first. We’re not dicking about here. This is serious stuff. The area we are running across is primarily National Park, but not in the way we think of National Park here in the UK. This route has NEVER been run before - it’s a world first. There are parts never touched by humans. Our men on the ground have had to get 3 different letters from the government to allow us to do this. National Parks in the UK have way marked trails and picnic benches and shops. There is nothing like that here. There are no marked trails, because the trails change and shift every day. We didn’t know it yet, but we weren’t going to see one other person apart from our team for the whole 5 days we were out there. 

The plan is to run across it over 4 days - 50km a day on foot for myself and Darren. Jim and Dani are going to attempt to ride the first two days on fat bikes, BUT they will be trying to cover 100km a day each in comparison to our paltry 50km. So they will start 100km behind myself and Darren and try and catch us up in time for the 3rd day. Let’s just remember that none of us have any experience on this terrain (Darren has done Sandy Jog Week AKA MDS but wotevs) and none of us know what the terrain will actually be like in order to prepare anyway. I am imagining it’s all dunes going downwards, soft fluffy white sand and then sometimes flat white lovely sand. Spoiler: It is not like that at all. 

After a traditional trip to Wetherspoons Terminal 5, we jump on the plane, change at Johannesburg and a few hour later, arrive in Windhoek, Namibia. On the flight to Windhoek, I have a huge Ghanian guy sat next to me, who, it becomes very clear, is terrified of flying. I have to hold his hand and talk him down. Literally. Talk to him all the way down until we land. He’s very grateful and I was really happy that I could help him. It felt like he was a personification of my own fears about, well, everything. This also means I have successfully managed to avoid almost all of the sleep on all of the planes. I am amazingly stupid and bad at sleeping. So after about 18 hours in transit, I feel FRESH AS FUCK. The excitement of meeting up with Handsome Pete, David Scott (our expedition leader and pal from the Mongolian adventure) and the rest of our team keeps me up and bouncing along, and, after a quick stop at the local supermarket for beer and supplies, we start the 4 hour car journey to Namibgrens Farm on the east side of the desert, where we will spend our first night. 

View from the car en route to Namibgrens Farm

Namibia is massive and it’s hard to get places. “I’ll sleep in the car” I think - but, because the roads are dirt tracks and the cars are basically 4x4 buggies on speed, the bouncing about all over the place means no snoozes for me. Plus, there’s so much to see out on the drive. We drive past Warthogs, Oryx’s and Ostriches just mooching about. Causal. I ask our driver a million questions about the history and geography of where we are going. Turns out Namibia was a german colony from 1884, with the administration taken over by the Union of South Africa (under the League of Nations) after WW1. It became independent in 1990, but the German influence is obvious in the place names and the organisation of the streets in the major towns. Of which there are two.  

But the town has gone now. We’re heading out to the wilderness. We have finally arrived at Namibgrens Farm, where we will spend the night, before starting on our run tomorrow. The farm is literally in the middle of nowhere (4.5 hours to the nearest shop) and we have a real bed each for the night. A rare treat. After we have got changed and had a shower, we are picked up by Johnny, who is part of the support team, in what looks like a cartoon desert truck. In hindsight, this truck has a lot to answer for. This truck is now known as The Fun Bus, mainly for ironic reasons. Here is the Fun Bus. Fuck the Fun Bus. 

Looks a lot cleaner than I remembered……

Ten mins down the road, the rest of the support team David, Danny and Hein have set up a Brai on the edge of the desert. There we sit and eat, and drink beer and gin and tonic in the dark, whilst being briefed on hydration, foot care and how not to die. Danny and Hein are local expedition experts, and know the desert back to front. Not only that, they can drive huge vehicles up 33% sand dunes. Not fun for either the driver or the passengers. We’re in good hands here. It’s magical and we are excited. We all get to bed for about 8pm. Tomorrow we start.

Dinner location on the first night

The Namibia/Panama Crossings: Prologue

Dune life (photo: Pete Rees) 

I started writing this blog on the hoof, halfway through the two trips. Mainly because I didn’t want to forget what was happening to me. I was too scared to get my laptop out in the desert, because everything I touched ended up covered in sand or mud or both. Like that skittles ad, but more annoying. I’m now home, scraping through the memories and photos and trying to piece together what was the adventure of a lifetime. I am safe, but blown away. Trying to understand what I have achieved without sounding like a complete tool. In the last 3 weeks, I have crossed The Namib desert on foot, east to west from the outskirts of the Namib National Park to the wreck of the Eduard Bolen. I am the first woman to do so, setting the fastest known time of about 38 hours for the 200km distance. Total ascent for the route was about 4,200m or about 4 Snowdons. Just over a quarter of a million steps. The day after I finished, we flew to Cape Town and ran the big 3 - Signal Hill, Lions Head and Table Mountain, all in one terrifying day. We got in a car at the foot of Table Mountain and travelled for 60 hours via Heathrow to Panama City. The day after we got to Panama, we began the first of two traverses. The first, the all-in-one west to east crossing on foot and kayak, taking in the Panama canal and pipeline in another world first. The second, the 5 day Panama Coast to Coast run - 50 miles road running followed by 3 (or 5 in this case - more on that later) days total self sufficient trekking through primary jungle, taking us on foot from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coast. In total, over the second phase of this traverse we clocked up over 28,000ft of elevation - that is the equivalent of Mount Everest from sea level.  

My favourite canyon in the Namib desert (photo: Me)

Top of the world in Panama (photo: Me)

Most of you reading this know about the planning for these adventures. Both events are reccee’s for Rat Race Bucket list events. (You can read about it here) We are the test pilots - we basically stress test, to see if the route works, identifying and overcoming any issues that we may come across in a smaller group, before throwing a bigger group into it. If you haven’t read the blogs about preparing for this then do that first! It’s not a decision I took lightly.

I want this to be a true account of what happened. It will be long. In places it will be a tough read, for both you, the reader, and me the author. It will probably take me 4-6 weeks to get through the write up and I will be posting as I get it done. My overall feelings at the moment are of bewilderment, confusion and lack of belief. I have struggled to talk to my friends who have reached out to me about it, because I don’t want it to come across as boastful or overly dramatic. I am almost embarrassed to talk about what I went through. I feel like it’s not that interesting to anyone but me. But I know that some people want to read about it, and I owe it to myself to try and accept that I HAVE achieved something remarkable. I will try and be as honest as I can here. At times, this was the most beautiful and inspiring thing I have ever been a part of. At times it was the hardest and most horrifying thing I have ever been a part of. This trip has not made me a different person but has helped me accept the resilience of my own character. This trip has almost bankrupted me. This trip has taught me lessons about my own strength and weaknesses; it has surprised and delighted and broken and battered me.the experience is a metaphor for life. One step at a time. Deal with what you can now. Deal with what you have to tomorrow. This is the story of a normal person out to achieve something extraordinary, for ultimately no reason at all, other than that it was there to be done. It’s written in first person and second person for every person. I am not the best writer, but I hope it reads OK.   Be warned, this experience is a gateway drug. If I can inspire even one person to throw caution to the wind and get outside, live their life and believe they have more in them, my job is done. 

Stay tuned…..

Groundhog Day - Trotting the Thames Path AGAIN

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…..

Also 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. 

The spoils…..

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! 

Crafty Fox Marathon, Downslink Ultra and Pacing a Pal…..

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. 

image

TAIL!

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. 

image

HILL!

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. 

image

Another hill…….

image

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. 

image

MEDALZ

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. 

image

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? 

image

Dream team….

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.

image

I mean……….

image

Dat Autumn sun filter….

image

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. 

image

Welcome to the jungle….

image

A train……

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. 

image

Countryside……

image

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.

image

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. 

image

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. 

image

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…..) 

To Live A Life Less Ordinary.....

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. 

That post…..

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. 

How To Run 184 Miles Along The Thames Without Going Completely Mentile.

So this months Strava stats suddenly look pretty good. Over the last 4 days I have run the entire length of the Thames Path with the lovely people at Ultra Running Ltd. That’s 7 marathons in 4 days, pals. That’s 184 miles (plus 5 bonus ones getting lost), 41.5 hours, 18,000 calories and I think about 405,000 steps. That’s quite a lot. 

It all started last year when I signed up to the first two days of the BRC Thames Challenge knowing that I had another ultra in Salisbury on the Sunday, which prevented me from doing the whole thing (excuses in early). I thought I’d give it a go and see what all the fuss was about - at the time it was my longest multi day - and to be quite honest it broke me. By day 2, I was in my hotel room having a cry looking at the withered stumps that were once my feet. Fast forward a year, and, boosted by experience and stupidity, I was going to give the whole thing a go. 

The race is organised by Ultra Running Ltd, a company that are basically a one man show run by Steve Worrall, the worlds nicest man, from the back of his big orange Land Rover. The race is over 4 days and is split into 4 individual stages that can be done together, or independently, depending on how much of an idiot you are. 

Day 1 is the Cotswold ultra, 44 miles from Kemble to Bablock Hythe.  

Day 2 is the Oxford ultra, 65 miles from Bablock Hythe to Hurley. 

Day 3 is the Windsor ultra, 43 miles from Hurley to Kingston-upon-Thames. 

Day 4 is the Richmond Ultra, 31 miles from Kingston-upon-Thames to the Thames Barrier. 

Seems legit right? It’s a river, you can’t get lost, “it’ll be fun”, they said.

Day 1: The Cotswold Ultra - 44.3 miles 

I decided to stay in Kemble the night before the race, and met my first match in the local taxi drivers who do NOT like to pick people up or drop them off anywhere. This is strange as I did think it’s what they existed for, but they really don’t like doing it. I got to the start at 7.30am to meet up with some of my pals from Putney Runners who were also running, and the rest of the 4 day challengers. There were 12 of us attempting all 4 days, which was a pretty good turnout. It was lovely to know that I wouldn’t be on my own, and I hadn’t seen Jean-Marc since Sierra Leone, so I was looking forward to catching up with him.  

No bells and whistles here…

Apparently this is where the Thames starts….

We set off at 8 am, running across fields to the post and stone that mark the start of the Thames and then doubling back on ourselves to head out towards Bablock Hythe. The day was pretty uneventful, animal count was high - delicious cows and sheep - and I was feeling pretty good. Weather was overcast and hot. 6 Music was playing some bangers.  As is the way with these things, I eventually found myself on my own as the pack stretched out. The classic game of “hold it back Bailey” had begun, and I felt like I was right at the back of the pack. I was averaging an 11 min mile pace, which even I felt was too fast but I didn’t see anyone for AAAAAAAGES and I felt sad and lonely (what’s new?) so I started talking to all the animals I met along the way, including the imaginary ones. 

The company that run this event are tiny and the aid stations are few and far between - on average every 10 or so miles. They do sandwiches jelly beans, a bit of cake, coke and squash. Anything else you want, you have to bring yourself. Which is why my pack had 3 tins of Peppa Pig pasta and 700 packets of salt and vinegar squares in it. It was fucking heavy. 

Aid Station 1: Enjoy your lunch while I tape my trotters, people…

Last year I won this stage of the race before I had even started, as I was the only woman (pick your races, people) but this year there was a fair bit of competition with 5-6 ladyzzzz on the start line, and I knew there was lovely Emma Putney Runner in front of me, so I was taking the whole thing relatively easy, because of the “long game” plan. I had to finish the 4 days and so I couldn’t go all batshit mental competitive and ty and win individual ones.

Always yapping…

This is one of the best days route wise - it runs through villages and fields and along the rural parts of the Thames. I entertained myself buy taking selfies in cornfields, and listening to Adam and Joe podcasts. People along the route are lovely, always saying hello and I was having a relatively nice time. I particularly enjoyed it when the Rob, the first man as far as I was concerned, came running up behind me after about 4 hours, on the phone. He’d got lost (HOW??? HOW??!) and had spent 1.5 hours going in a massive circle. He seemed OK about it - I would not have been OK about it at all. This route is not marked. You have to follow signs. And there are lots of signs. And some of them are the wrong signs.

On and on and on…

Some nice bits….

A thing that I saw. 

Professional race nutrition was tins of children’s pasta, salt and vinegar squares, caffeine bullets and squash. It worked. I came in an hour earlier than the previous year feeling brilliant, and was, to my surprise, handed the first lady trophy - Emma had taken a wrong turn and ended up shin deep in a ford (it happens) so came in second. I chucked my legs in the river for ten minutes and grabbed a beer and all was well. I felt a LOT better than the previous year. The camaraderie was brilliant, and we all waited for the final people to come in before having delicious pub dinner and going to bed. God this blog’s boring isn’t it? Hopefully something bad happens to me later…..

WINNING!

OH PISS OFF…….

Day 2 - The Oxford Ultra - 65 miles

Day 2 started cold with glorious sunshine, so for some reason I put on a compression base layer. This just proves what a twat I can be. I’d had a brief look at weather and it said we might be in for “a bit” rain so I packed the jacket and we started off from the car park we had finished in the night before, just after 8am. Rob (or Lost Boy as we shall now call him) sped off up front. With everyone else shouting not to follow him. With good reason. 

It all started SO well……

We all had a days running in our legs and we had already lost 2 challengers so the atmosphere was a little more muted this morning. We knew it was a long way, plus we had to risk out lives running through Reading at about 6pm. It was like we were all marching into our own funeral. 4 miles in and I was too hot and on my own Base layer off, trotters trotting nicely, and I settled in for the long, lonely slog that was going to be day 2. I didn’t have a strategy for the day other than finish it. I ran at 11 min miles for as long as I felt like it, walked at 15 min miles when I wanted to and was making good progress into checkpoint one - where as you can see, I was still smiling. 

Happy face. This would not last. 

It had started to rain a bit, so I debated putting on my jacket then thought “nah, it’ll pass”. Then it really started raining. Then all that is good in the world was sucked out of it in a vortex of armageddon like rain clouds, and it started fucking shitting it down. It did this for 3 hours. THREE. HOURS. 

Here comes the rain……

No pictures of me totally drenched because my phone would’t work it was that wet…….

This part of the route is basically though the British jungle. It’s overgrown national trust path, which in the sunshine would be glorious, in the rain is horrendous. The path had got super slippery where it had been so dry for weeks before, and I was wearing my lightest trail shoes as I had been expecting hard packed trail. Cue me being like bambi on ice, with my rain jacket on but sticking to me as the wind blew and making me cold, everything soaked, EVERYTHING. No let up. My sense of humour was failing. I couldn’t even use my phone because it was too wet. My hands started to wrinkle like I had been in the bath. 

Welcome to the Jungle. 

At mile 17 I stopped under a railway bridge to take stock, and attempt to look at the weather and eat some crisps. I managed to get through to my boyfriend who told me that I was indeed running away from the weather and it would get better. I thought he might be lying. I decided to believe him for my own sanity. Mega props to Ultimate Direction for the Fastback 25 and it’s waterproof qualities - my dry warm kit for the night section was still dry. I had to keep going. But my mood was 70% rat at this point. It continued to hammer it down for the next 10-15 miles. Spikey sideways rain. Big sloppy rain. Think-it’s-going-to-stop-and-then-it-doesn’t rain. When it finally did start to stop, the pain was almost worth it for the relief. And then the sun came out. It was momentarily joyful. 

Sun’s out! Face out! 

By the time I reached checkpoint 2, we had lost a further 2 people due to the weather. Lost Boy had got lost again. There were now 8 of us left in the challenge. I got my pasta down my neck hole and a sandwich for the ‘journey’, and started off to the next checkpoint. It was at this point the demons started chasing me, and eventually caught up around mile 30. 

Being alone on these long runs is hard, especially for those of us that suffer with mental health problems. I didn’t want to use my phone because I knew I needed the battery when my watch inevitably ran out. I was slipping further and further into the “not good enough” hole. I was completely out of love for what I was doing. I couldn’t run properly, I was too slow, I wasn’t a real runner, I was a let down to people, what I was doing was worthless, nobody cared and I was probably going to fail so might as well give up now. I know that I portray this image of wonderment and idioticness, but the monkeys on bicycles in our brains can get to us all, at any time. Instead of fighting it, I let it sit on me for a few hours. I did an instagram update, I had a mini cry and I got on with it. Little steps forward, all of them a bit more towards the end of the day. I was trying to find something to take my mind off my hideous self, so I decided to take photos of all the discarded clothing that I was seeing on my little trot. There is a LOT of it. I decided I would make it into a coffee table book to sell at Christmas in Urban Outfitters and call it “DUDE WHERE’S MY BRA? The Thames Path - A Pictoral Guide”. Please see my instagram for exclusive content.

One of my exclusive shots of some underpants on the Thames Path. 

After the third checkpoint I started to see out of the fog of misery. Steve (head marshall) had gone and got me a veggie sausage roll, a banana and some peanuts and I felt like kissing him. They really do look after you, this race company.  He also gave me a tracker   (an electronic on, not the snack bar)and said we all had to have one because Lost Boy was getting constantly lost and also READING. LOL Rob. LOL Reading. LOL. I was very tired, but I knew that at the next CP, I would meet my sister so have someone to shout at, I mean run with, for the night section, and that spurred me on. A lot of this part of the path I had covered on the Autumn 100 back in October and obvs in the same race a year ago, so it was easy to follow and I didn’t need to do much nav. Reading was horrible, but when I got to the final checkpoint, my sister was there and I had someone to chat to and moan at. She’s so lucky. Also, the sun had come out (the massive bastard). Sadly, even that couldn’t make Reading look good. Even painting Reading gold and parading unicorns through it can’t make Reading look good. 

Beautiful Reading

Top tip, kiddos. Yabbering away with your sister will make you miss signs and I missed a very obvious one, putting me on the wrong side of the river and giving me a 2.5 mile out and back that I certainly didn’t need. It was getting dark and I was exhausted. I had a very high calorie deficit and I managed 9.30 min miles in my anger at going wrong, which was not my best idea. Head torches on for the last bit (which I have done before) AND I GET LOST AGAIN! This time in the deer park.  So my 13 mile run with my sister turns into a 17 mile run and I come in at about 14 hours for this stage at 11.20pm. No dinner. BUT FIRST LADY TROPHY! Always good when you come first but you have also come almost last. That’s really winning. 

Beautiful end to a shitty day 

When I get to my hotel, there is a massive glorious spider pal above my bed, that I politely ask the man at reception to remove for me, so it doesn’t get in my mouth when I am asleep. `The man refers to me as one of those “hysterical women” who jumps on chairs. The man doesn’t realise who he is talking to. The man gets ‘the stare’ and the following sentence: 

“Hysterical woman? Cool. Here’s the thing. I would remove spider guy if there was a big enough glass in my room. There is not. I have just run 70 miles and have paid quite a lot to stay here.  Also, if I was a man would you have described me as ‘hysterical’”? The man looks scared. The man should be scared. 

The man comes to my room with a glass and is scared of the big spider and has to go get a bigger glass. He then produces half a bottle of red wine as a sorry. I forgive the man. 4/5 on TripAdvisor. 

I go to bed with no dinner, and no spider pal.  

Winning and losing is quite something. 

DAY 3: The Windsor Ultra - 43 miles. 

Breakfast of campions this morning - some hotel biscuits. TripAdvisor rating down to 3/5. I’m almost late for the start, due to me thinking the start is closer than it is (5 hours sleep not great) but the lovely Steve picks me up and I literally jump out of the car and start running with BBR’s very own Dan Barratt. Today will be better because he is here and he is wonderful. 

LOOK DAN IS HERE!

It’s sunny and glorious and me and Dan are hammering out a good pace of 5mph. The first ten miles fly by. My calves are killing me but I medicate with caffeine bullets and dips in the Thames. There are a lot of what I am calling “day trippers” here today - people only doing one day - so there is no way I am going to win. I am going to try and not let my legs blow up, although I don’t really know what blow up means. Me and Dan talk about it for a bit. We wonder what it would look like if someones calves ACTUALLY DID blow up. We get to Windsor - I have never been there before- and its really quite nice. I can understand why people have weddings there. We stop in the shop for a San Pellegrino and it is delightful. 

Windsor-on-sea

Dan produces some magic treats from America. These include birthday cake flavour GU and Ginger Beer Shot Bloks. I feel like I love Dan. About 12 miles from the end, at the last aid station we are met by the beautiful face of Ultimate Hell Week winner and all round total badass Claire Rees. She is wonderful and I love her but I am scared because she is the fastest of all the beasts. She’s come for a run and a chat and has bought pizza. I decide I no longer love Dan, I now love only Claire. 

It’s funny what running with other people does for you. I am so lifted by Dan and Claire and we run more than walk, laughing and catching up and generally having a nice time time. My calves don’t hurt anymore and I am having the best time. About 6 miles from the end we stop for a beer - why not? I’m not going to win and I am thirsty. I know I am tired but my two pals are making it so much fun. We trot out the last 6 miles with fizzy beer tums, and as we come into the finish, it starts to rain. I feel happy and strong and that is totally down to the company that I have kept today. This little community I am part of makes everything better. 

The Dream Team, end of day 3. No trophies but smiles all round. 

That night I stay in a hotel in Kingston. There is a wedding on. But I do get dinner. And a bath. One more day to go. One more day until I can say I have achieved what I set out to do. 

DAY 4: The Richmond Ultra - 31 miles.

I wake up and attempt to get out of bed, promptly falling over because my legs don’t work. I feel like Pinocchio with rickets. Breakfast this morning is a delight - one smooshed up banana I found in my bag, hotel biscuits and a packet of salt and vinegar squares. I am such a winner, I think to myself. 

I head down to the start and am astonished to find about 40 people there - it’s a London Ultra on a Sunday - of course it’s gonna be busy, but I am so used to my little group of pals I am kind of annoyed that everyone else has crashed the party. But then I find a running dog and it’s all OK. 

Final day. Lets do this. 

31 miles seems like nothing after the last few days, but don’t be fooled - it’s a long way. I have told my friends that I will be in at 5pm - giving me 9 hours to do the distance. I now realise that this is stupid and text them saying I will be there nearer 3, It can’t take me 9 hours to do 31 miles…can it? 

The klaxon goes and we start - literally everyone apart from the full challengers runs off at 7 min miles. I feel pathetic. I trot along with a few of the slower people having a chat and visualising the finish. My legs don’t feel as bad as they did yesterday and I know I am going to finish. I keep feeling like I might cry, but I push it away, Now is not the time for crying. I know this stretch of the run - I have done it a million times before - it’s my turf and I am very much at home here. I remember when I trained for my first marathon, and diligently ran up and down here at the weekends, and then I think about the journey I have come on since those days, 6 years ago, and feel like I might cry again. I distract myself by continuing to take pictures of discarded clothing for my best selling coffee table book. 

Last bits of green on the way home…

The first aid station comes and goes and I am very much at the back of the pack. I don’t care. I am making good time considering. It’s funny, but people keep coming in behind me having got lost - I have no idea how this has happened to them. It’s a straight path! 

Just after 12 miles, I spot a familiar red vest and see it’s one of the BBR crew in the shape of Richard McDowell, possibly one of the best marathon runners that we have in this country. This year he ‘accidently” came 11th British male (this includes ALL the elites) at London Marathon, with a time of 2.27.56. This man is a fucking MACHINE. He has his son Wilf in a running buggy. I pray this slows him down - he’s come to pace me. 

Familiar sights start to come into view. 

I always feel really bad running with these mega fast runners. Sometimes I feel like a science project, like they want to see why I go slow and how I go slow, but Rich is nothing but supportive. We chat about what happened at London and his plans to rip Bournemouth  Marathon a new one. I know I am running too fast, but again I am having the BEST time chatting to him. Again I run more than walk. Wilf is a funny distraction. He’s eating cucumber sticks. I am running 9.30 in miles over 150 miles into a race. The world is a funny place. We come into town and suddenly there are cars and buses and people and I hate it. I want the quiet of the trails back. We go past the Houses of Parliament and down Embankment and at Waterloo Bridge, Rich leaves me. I am slightly relieved, and walk the next mile as recovery. I now have only 11 miles to go. I have covered 21 miles in 4 hours. I text my friends to tell them I might be early.

Double whammy - clothes AND bridge  

I get to the final aid station at Wapping and give Steve a hug. I can almost smell the finish and I know the route. I press on with a couple of other slower runners, still running with walking breaks in between. I cannot wait to finish. Under the tunnel at Greenwich and through the nightmare that is the building site round the O2 and I catch a glimpse of the Thames Barrier. I am over 3 hours earlier than I thought I would be. 

Such an ugly, beautiful sight……

Finally I see the end. There is a slide in the kids playground that I slide down, and I am done. I have finished the BRC Thames Path Challenge. I am the only female finisher for 2018, and only the 3rd female finisher over the events 6 year history. I have broken the female record for the course by about 3 hours. I am overjoyed and relieved. Nobody is there to meet me because I have come in too early. I have a really big trophy. 

Finish like a pro. 

Professional photo shoot. 

My best friends turn up and I am jubilant. We go to the pub and I am full of happiness and bravado. It’s not until later, when I am at dinner with my boyfriend that I finally burst into tears. I have achieved something that I honestly did not 100% believe I could do. I am immensely proud of myself, I am exhausted but I am not broken. I hope that every single person that reads this blog can take from this that YOU have more in you than you think. There were times when I wanted to stop. There was a full 8 hours of darkness on day 2. This is not an easy race. It’s mentally challenging, it’s physically hard in that its so flat (hill means enforced walking, flat does not) and the drop out rate is high, mainly due to the flat, monotonous and brutal (when it rains) nature of the trail. But completing something like this - it will make you strong. And it will make you believe in yourself. 

Massive thanks to every single person who helped me finish. Huge props to Ultra Running Limited, who are a brilliant, small company that deserve to be recognised and supported. The way they treat their runners is second to none. Make sure you look at their races and get involved. 

Thank you to all the people I ran with and met along the way, and my family and friends for being kind and putting up with me nagging them. Thanks to the Do-Badders for pacing and to my sister for putting up with my ratty nature. And massive thanks to Julius and Oscar for looking after me post race. 

So what’s next? I have a few more marathons this year (like 10 more) a few more Ultras this year (maybe 3 more) and then it’s adventure time come November and December, when I set off to Namibia and Panama to attempt to run 300K across the Namib Desert and 200K coast to coast through the Panamanian Jungle with the lovely Rat Race Crew. All standard stuff. 

Until next time…….

Stuck In the Middle With You: How to get a Strava segment in the middle of the English Channel.

My trainers look REALLY clean at the moment. Like REALLY clean. This is probably because I am spending most of my running time semi submerged in water. 

After attending Love Trails festival the previous weekend (no blog on the because I pretty much hated it although the running was good!) I trotted out to Dover for attempt number 487 to recce the Rat Race Project Explore: Goodwin Sands 5K. We have honestly tried to do this about 6 times and every single time it has been called off with hours to spare due to “weather”. Let me explain. 

Goodwin Sands is a sandbank situated in the English channel between Deal and french France. It’s about 10 miles off Dover, in the middle of the worlds busiest shipping lane. It pops up for about 45 mins a day and then it’s gone. Basically, this is a 5K in the middle of the sea and the only one of it’s type in the world. Sounds legit, right? 

Map!

So the day came and it looked like we were actually game on. After a few beers the night before and some map checking, we headed to Dover Marina on Tuesday morning, where we jumped on a pretty nifty little boat and sped out towards the sands. Submerged during the day, this is the site of shipwrecks and plane crashes, with the submerged bank often catching mariners off guard. On the way out we spotted wrecks on the rocks and heard tales of buried war planes. You can see some of the wreckage as you speed out to sea, leaving the white cliffs behind you as you bounce along the waves.

Dover from le bateau. 

After a 20 min boat ride we were given our life jackets and escorted off the boat to start the recce. As we dismount the boat, we start to see the seals. In my eyes, seals are the wolverine clowns of the sea, with sharp flipper claws and cute bitey faces. They were bobbing along next to us, like curious dogs, as we appeared out of the water. I was beside myself with joy, I decided I wanted to cuddle a seal. I was warned against this and it did prove difficult. (Spolier - the seals did not want a cuddle from me)

There she is! Goodwin Sands starts to appear. 

Myself and Lee (of Mongolia fame) were given flags and told to find a 5K route. Why does Jim trust me with this stuff?! So Lee took the lead and we decided to attempt to run the ever changing edge of the sands and mark out a 5K loop using the flags. 

The sand looked flat and compact. It is neither. Much like the frozen lake it is VERY hard to judge the terrain - what looks flat is actually undulating, rippled and quite technical. And in some places, very, very soft - stand there too long and it will suck you in and not let go. Pools of water are everywhere and there are constant rivers of water running up and down the bank, some of them a lot deeper than they look. 

Wettest MDS ever. 

Boats waiting for us to hopefully not die. 

Lee before the incident we don’t mention where his life jacket went off because he “splashed” it. 

Lee and I soon learnt that the edge of the bank is the flatest and easiest part to run on, so started making our way around the edge. There were seals everywhere, sunbathing on the bank and looking slightly pissed off at having to move as we approached. They slithered into the sea like massive slugs and then stayed there bobbing up and down and waiting for us to leave so they could get on with their hectic schedule of sunbathing. They were massive and funny. 

“Please be my friend!”

LOOK AT THEM!

We made our way round, dropping flags, going back on ourselves and trying to navigate to 5K, working out how we would mark the route for the actual event in August. It was stunningly beautiful, quiet, almost eerie and being able to run towards the white cliffs while being in the middle of the sea was just amazing. The solitude was beautiful, the fear that you could get stuck was real and the sand was deep and very wet. 

Spot the seal.

NOT my friends. 

We eventually came back to where we started an hour after we had been dropped off. Longest Parkrun ever. But we had done it and we now know other people can do it in safety. 

On the way back we talked about the type of runner the event would attract - would people be smashing it out? Would they be going hell for leather, trying to get round in the faster possible time or would they stop, walk a bit and take in just how amazing this experience is? Is it possible for the fast people to actually do 2 loops for a 10K? I guess we will find out in August when the first intrepid Rat Racers get to try it for themselves. 

Dover from the sands. Epic. 

Goodwin Sands 5K is all booked up for this year but you can still register interest for next time round here. I would recommend you do. This is once in a lifetime stuff. Just don’t even thing about seal cuddles. 

Also massive thank to Lee for being my personal videographer on this one - I will miss you pal. Strava segment after the jump!


LOL Strava. 

Rat Race Man Vs Roast, I mean COAST.

Alriiiight mooy lovelies! (That is Cornish for hello…)

Earlier in July, I found myself on a train to Penzance to take part in the inaugural Rat Race Man Vs Coast “challenge”. 20 ish (24) miles of glorious north atlantic trails and hills with a load of water thrown in. Like Takeshis Castle, with a load of runners. 

It was my first Man Vs event, and despite me thinking the titles are a load of old bobbins, I was pretty excited to see what all the fuss was about. The route takes you from St. Michaels Mount in Penzance straight north crossing the whole of Cornwall (all 4 miles of it). Once you hit the North Atlantic coast, you trot along, all the way to Lands End where you fall off the end then drink beer. 

The start of Man vs Coast 

The Mountain of Michael AKA St Michaels Mount, the backdrop for the start. 

Unsurprisingly it was BOILING that weekend, and by the time I had taken the 5 hour train trip to Cornwall it was, in classic Bailey fashion, too late to have dinner. Again. So I did was any self respecting runner would do, and went to the pub for 2 pints and 2 packets of scampi fries. #carbloading. 

When I got back to the hotel, I bumped into a couple of other people I had met on Rat Race events and, to cut a long story short, ended up staying up until 1am with the guy that ran the hotel pouring my own wine from his stocks. This, my friends, is how you prepare for a race. 

It’s a little bit of a logistical pain the bumhole, this one. Registration is in Penzance, camping is at Lands End and the race starts back in Penzance. This means driving to Penzance, picking up your number, driving to Lands End, setting up your tent and then booking yourself onto a coach to take you to the start in the morning - a drive of just over and hour for start to finish. As you know I am lazy and self entitled, so I decided to stay in a hotel and then work out a way to get back from Lands End the following evening when I was drunk and vulnerable. Seemed legit. 

Saturday morning and I managed to miss breakfast as well because I am amazing, settling for a coffee and 2 biscuits I found in my room. The start line was a taxi ride away, and my nice new hotel FWENDS gave me a lift down there, where I met up with #bogsquad from Arran and a load of Do-Badders. There were a LOT of them there and it was lovely. 

The race starts in waves - GEDDIT!? Me and Spike having the best time. 

The race starts in waves which are seemingly randomly picked. I was here for training, to see my mates and to have a lovely time - others were not, and the wave system seemed to get a lot of “serious” people hot under the collar. Once started, you run straight out and into the sea where there is a giant yellow inflatable you have to swim around, then you head back onto the beach to do some running.  Unfortunately the inflatable came loose, so instead of the planned 50m swim it was looking more and more like a 50 mile swim, with every runner that went past pushing it further out to sea. Cue RR MD Jim Mee jumping into the water with a life jacket on to act as human inflatable, while the big yellow sausage (the inflatable, not Jim) floated away into the ether. What can I say? It was the inaugural race and I found this quite hilarious. 

Is this a sewer? It looks like a sewer….

Once back on the beach, it was a run along to the next water based obstacle - a pontoon in the sea that you swam towards, scrambled up on and then jumped off. What is the point of this, you say? There is no point, it’s just funny. A bit more running on the beach, and then through a tunnel that appeared like it may once have been a sewer, up a river, a scramble onto the bank and we were on dry land. 

Bailey bank scrambling. 

Once out of the water were off up the country roads and away from the sea running on tarmac with lovely wet feet as we made our way North across Cornwall from the English Channel and onto the North Atlantic coast. It was about 4 miles of roads and hills, via village called Ding Dong (no shit) eventually topping out onto the coastal path which is where I came into my own. 

DING DONG!

Just the best…..

Weeeeeeee!

Quick stop at Pit Stop one for water and salt, and up onto the cliffs. It was stunningly beautiful and the weather made the colours jaw dropping. The trails were really hard packed because of the weather in the previous week, and relatively technical, but I was loving it. Ferns, castles, cliffs, this run has it all. We live in the best country. Sometimes. 

NO FILTER NEEDED!

Secret beaches are part of this epic route. 

Second pit stop was well stocked with melting pit stop bars and jaffa cakes - and we quickly left in search of some more water to throw ourselves in. This race would have been VERY different if it was raining. VERY different. 

The next obstacle was a jump from a pretty massive rock into the sea - it’s so brilliant to be able to do this stuff you would never otherwise do - the crew are brilliant and supportive and anyone that was having second thoughts about jumping with gently coerced into it, emerging triumphant and soaked. theres always the option to not do the jumps but as you know by now I am VERY suggestable. I honestly think that it’s all down to rat race that I am no longer too afraid go heights. 

Get on the rock, jump in the sea - EASY!

Out of the water, and back along the cliff tops for some scramble sections up and down the rocks. Up the ‘Vertical Kilometre’ (or “Crisp Eating Hill” as I like to call it). Onto the beach for some bouldering, back into the water to retrieve some bobbing flags, and then up again. This is a total trail runners paradise and the water just made the heat easier to cope with. The next obstacle involved a rope bridge made of nets and what looked like safety pins, another cliff jump, a scramble up more rocks and a rope assisted climb down. That scared me, but again with the support given by the crew, I managed it pretty easily and actually loved it!

Tiny People and BIG old rocks

No words. 

Scrambles!

That looks runable….

 Now, I know there were some issues around this point with queuing for things and looking at the people from the top of the cliffs was a bit like watching lemmings trotting off to their certain deaths. I was back of the pack with Spike so I didn’t experience any huge waits for anything and was happy just sitting in the sun for 10 mins. 

The last obstacle was a bodyboard, if a bodyboard can be an obstacle. Running down onto the sandy beach, we were handed our boards and told to go “catch a wave”. Fucking ridiculous, but OK then. I swapped my dolphin board for a shark one, and did what I was told quite badly, dropping the board off for the final run up to Lands End for a beer and a chat with my pals. 

Of course I chose this bodyboard…..

Made it!

So yeah, 20 odd miles of fun run, splash splash and LOLS. There were, however, issues at the end with people not happy about their times or position on the leaders board. It’s pretty hard to be able to put a leaders board together when the obstacles aren’t mandatory - some people missed them altogether and others did them all, but to be honest, this isn’t a “race” to PB or try and win - this is a brilliant day out with some huge challenges and a big old party at the end. Bring your mates along, forget your splits and just have the best time ever. 

Next up, a little run around a sandbank in the middle of the English Channel…….

Rat Race Recce Report: Subterranean Snowdon

Now a few if you may know my feelings about cycling. Cyclists are cheats, bikes are cheat machines, some of them poo in their lycra, horse attacking half wits etc. but that didn’t stop me from from biting Jim’s arm off when he asked if I wanted to come to Snowdonia to recce one of the new Rat Race Projects - ‘Subterranean Snowdon’. 

I’ve done Snowdon a few times - Snowdon trail Marathon, Snowdon Ultra etc, but this promised to be more than trotting up a mountain and stumbling down again. 

image

Sometimes it pays to be short….

The premise is that you start of half a mile underground in the old mines at Llanberis. You make your way up to the surface and jump on a mountain bike (gross) for 15 miles to the foot of Snowdon then run up the Watkin Path- possibly the most technically difficult way up - its’ got ridges  and drops and all sorts. You know how I like a ridge right? (Spoiler - I don’t). Once you get to the top you run down the other side and then abseil down 3-5 waterfalls to the bottom. Sounds fun right? Looks good on paper right? Reality is it’s the most exhilarating, exciting and terrifying fun you can have in 12 hours. 

We stayed the night in a little hostel in Llanberis and after a big old breakfast and briefing myself, Ross (our safety guide ninja) Jim, Darren and Handsome Pete made our way towards that start of the event - the slate mines at Parc Padarn. It was a little overcast and chilly but nothing to get upset about. Yet. 

image

Yeah, that’s a train…..

We’re put in a tiny train that looks like a well dodgy, yellow vertical version of the DLR, and clank our way down the mine shaft. A little bell goes and the doors open - we are now half a mile underground in a warren of still functional mines. It’s pretty dark in mines isn’t it? That’s why I was wearing a stupid at with a light. Our guides were great and led us through the little passages (poor Handsome Pete bashing his head every 3 seconds, Jim and I not having that problem at all) until we reach a pretty steep rail track that obviously hasn’t been used for some time. We have to climb up it, towards the light - a climb that starts off ok but ends as more of a scramble. I’m not really that claustrophobic but this gets your heart rate and anxiety going for sure. Once at the top, it’s straight onto our bikes which have been waiting for us at the top of the mine. This is where it starts to get funny. 

image

Follow the light, kids. 

image
image

This is the hole we popped out of……

I haven’t been on a bike for ages (boris bikes drunk don’t count) and I am so glad we had Helen - our lovely mountain bike guide - to help.  I basically had to learn how to ride one again - and it is NOT the same as running. Whereas Darren looked like he was about to win the Tour de France, I came across more Pee Wee Herman. 

image

Thrilled. I was thrilled. 

But that’s ok. I didn’t fall of. And Helen was brilliant. She was really encouraging and gave me some amazing tips - and didn’t laugh at me once for being shit. Well maybe once but that was because I was being shit. If the idea of riding a bike puts you off doing this - don’t let it. There loads of support and (don’t tell anyone) I actually had a really good time!

image
image

Standard Pete Rees crouch. 

The first part of the ride is roads - downhill and fast and really good fun. The uphills were a struggle for me - running and cycling are very different AND I am bad at maths AND I’m not really very ambidextrous which made changing gear just LOL-worthy. Darren was flying up the hills, Jim was flying up them, I was getting off and walking a bit and flying DOWN them.  Handsome Pete was hanging out the back of a van filming us. Standard. Then it started raining. (It now won’t stop raining until the second we finish the trip). 

After all the fun of the roads and the beautiful farm tracks comes the really hard bit - mountain biking down very steep, very wet technical terrain. It would be hard enough to run down with trail shoes and not slip, let alone ride a bike down. I looked at the trail with slight horror wondering how I was every going to be able to do it, but once again Helen gave me a masterclass about putting my seat down, balancing and standing up - and down I bounced actually LOVING it and not falling off. Darren on the other hand had bought his MAMIL bike and DID fall off. Lessons learnt? You need a mountain nike for this or else you’re going to be carrying it on your shoulder. 

Over to Darren on that……

image

Jim and Darren survey the “track”

image

At this point we had been on the bikes for about 3 hours and the rain had really set in - we were all pretty much soaked. The beauty of Snowdonia make up for it though and although wet, by the end of the second leg we were all feeling awesome. 

image

Serious briefing time at the start of the Watkin Path….

Quick stop at the trucks to get a change of gear, and we were off up Snowdon along The Watkin Path. This is one of the most beautiful routes up with waterfalls and woods and a gradual incline before you start to get to the big boy section. It was still drizzling but as we ascended it got worse and worse. It’s about 6km to the summit, but its a lung buster with some decent scramble sections and some terrifying ridges to deal with. It got to the point where it was so foggy and rainy I couldn’t see Handsome Pete or the Guide who were no more than a meter in from or behind me. 

image

Love a water feature….

image

Visibility getting worse

image

OK, where is everyone? 

The good thing about this for me was I couldn’t see the drops on either side of the ridges. Anyone that read my UTA blog knows that I have a really bad fear of ridges with drops on either side. The best thing is if all I can see is cloud or fog - and that’s how it was here. Gutted there were no views, massively relieved there were no views. It was REALLY fucking windy though. 

image

Lovely ridge. Thank God I can’t see it properly. 

We were all soaked and freezing and even getting changed at the Summit in the lean to of the NOT OPEN cafe seemed like false economy - the rain was NOT giving up but I was freezing so wicked on a couple more layers and put my sodden jacket back on. 

image

Up we go - there were sheep up here - how the fuck did they get up there? 

image

Lovely view from the top…..

image

And down again…..

We started the trot down the Pyg Pass - again it was GREAT that is was so foggy and I managed the trot down pretty easily with no view. As we descended the fog lifted, but the rain and wind remained. We kept moving, because whenever we stopped we got cold. It was technical trail and bogs, technical trail and bogs, all the way up and down until we finally got got to Cwm Dyli Waterfall. It was huge and so noisy you couldn’t hear yourself think. It was awesome. 

image

This is FOR real people. First waterfall drop. 

We were in a cloud at the top of the falls, and we were totally soaked and it was windy. We were all starting to get cold so did our best to keep moving while Ross and the Rat Race squad got our abseil kit ready. It was at this stage that it dawned on Handsome Pete that he might have to abseil. I had not been thinking about this part, because I needed to get over bike fear before anything else. But now, looking at the ledge we had to throw ourselves off backwards, the slippery ledge that had tonnes of water gushing over it, it became a little bit real. 

No audio apart from waterfalls - but this is where I explain to Pete there are 5, FIVE abseils. You can add your own subtitles for LOLs. 

Handsome Pete was having none of it and decided to him from up the top - filming was being made very difficult by the rain and the fact we didn’t really have a waterproof casing for the camera. Quite how my phone survived this ordeal even in my bag, is beyond me, but the only shots I have of the waterfall abseils are shots from a previous recce - but you get the idea! 

image

Fun vs Not fun. You decide! 

We managed 3 abseils. I HAVE done this before (in Thailand where it’s dry) and I know where I should be putting my feet etc but it’s a different kettle of fish when you have tonnes of water gushing over you, and the rock you’re going down is VERY slippery and VERY smooth. It’s a case of not freaking out, really. The minute you realise you have started to freak out, you start to freak out more then it’s game over. 

image

I got to the bottom of the first drop and fell in the plunge pool like the lady I am, then got roped up for the second one. This one was huge - there’s a picture of it above. I was literally being waterboarded by nature. You can get the idea of the power of the water in this video taken the week before on the same waterfall. 

There came a point towards the end where I totally lost my footing and swung straight into the rock and under the falls. It was actually quite glorious but fucking painful. I just kept swinging in and out like a pendulum, occasionally bashing against the rock, until Stuart - one of the badass RR experts - managed to pull me out by my harness. Embarrassing but hilarious. My bruises are amazing. 

image

The third one was smaller and much more manageable and their was the option of doing 2 more, but it was late and we were all freezing and starving so we called it a day. In better weather it would have been amazing and I would have kept going all day - as it was I was very wet and cold and I knew it was stupid to carry on for no reason. 

End of the day, the whole squad got together for a curry before an amazing nights sleep. Love the Test Pilot Squad! 

So is this something I would do again? 100% yes. It’s a brilliant challenge for anyone who’s relatively fit (enough to run a 10k I reckon) and the support is amazing. I knew I could do all the things I did, I just didn’t know how much I would enjoy it. It’s hard - don’t get me wrong - it’s a really long day and you are on the go the whole time but it’s also fun and beautiful and exhilarating and it teaches you stuff about your organisational skills and brainhole. Top tip for anyone thinking about this? Take a spare waterproof if it’s raining and don’t scrimp on waterproof trousers - lifesavers. 

Next up? It’s Man Vs Coast with the Rat Race crew and a little recce on a sandbank that’s been put off and put off and put off. Fingers crossed for this time! 

Post South Downs Way 100 - Hitting The Wall.

So who thinks that running a 69 mile ultra loop North the week after a sub 24hr 100 miler is a good idea? Anyone? No. Thought not. Well I thought is WAS a good idea because I’m training for a 184 mile multi dayer in August. And I stand by my decision on this one, because I had a lovely time. 

The Wall is Rat Race’s only true one day running ultra. It starts in Carlisle and follows the route of Hadrians Wall for 69 miles through to Newcastle. The race is routed mainly along roads, with some trails thrown in, and is relatively flat - which for me is the challenge - road and flat are not my thang when it comes to ultras. I get confused and don’t know when to walk and eat my cheese sandwiches.  However, it’s a part of the world I haven’t ever been to and I do like a run, so off I went, staying in Carlisle’s most depressing hotel the night before, to run The Wall. 

GLADIATORS READY! THE START OF THE WALL 2018

Registration is the day before, so after registering and assembling some Do-Badders for dinner and drinks, I got my head down and set my alarm for 5.30 the next morning. The race starts at 7am,  with a briefing outside the castle at 6.45. In a nice change from the last few weeks the day was overcast as opposed to hotter than the sun, and as we started to run it started drizzling. Nice, I thought. Just a bit of drizzle, I thought. Glad I didn’t put my sun cream on, I thought. 

The first few miles are less than inspiring TBH. The grey roads of Carlisle take you past the airport and lots of fences, but no wall. I was very tired (I WONDER WHY?!) and at one point I felt like I was falling asleep at the wheel, but a bit of caffeine and a change of scene to some lovely villages and I started to feel better. My plan was to run a bit with Lorna, who paced me so well at the SDW100 the week before, but after 2 miles of 9.30 min miles, I was done and off she went. So I was alone for a while, chatting to people every so often, struggling to understand thick Geordie accents and genuinely feeling like a racist when I had to ask people to repeat themselves. 

BIT OF ROAD THAT IS NOT ROAD. NO WALL. 

The first Pit Stop was at Lanercost - about 12 miles in. I still hadn’t hit my stride at this point and honestly don’t remember much about that Pitstop, apart from seeing my support crew and necking 2 DELICIOUS tuna rolls. The aid stations on this race are fucking mega. I could have stayed at this one for at least 3 days eating myself into a coma. All the snacks.  About a mile out of the pit stops, I met a lovely man called Dave. Dave was my new running pal whether he liked it or not, and we ran together for a good 20 miles chatting about stuff and life and about how otters ACTUALLY have pockets (they do - look it up). All the important stuff. The weather was pretty OK at this point - windy and on and off rain, but as we trotted on to the second Pit Stop at Cawfields (27 miles in) the heavens properly opened. This was not the last time this would happen today. Cawfields had the added bonus of all the hot drinks and loads of crisps and fruit. And peoples drop bags laid out on the field like tiny mouse body bags. Weird. I was having the best picnic ever and I actually had started to feel pretty good. We’d seen a bit of wall. Everything was nice. I insulted some other runners by accident and then left in search of Pit Stop 3 - Hexham - where I was meeting my long suffering boyfriend who was coming out to trot through the Dark side of Newcastle with me. 


This was probably my favourite stretch of the route, with the most trail. It was truly beautiful and there were huge chunks of wall and history to be looked at and chatted about. The people on this race are wonderful. I met a lot of very nice, very funny men. I didn’t meet very many women. As usual. At the 40 mile mark I texted my crew to say I was about an hour away from Hexham and took off my waterproof. BIG MISTAKE. I knew it was a mistake. As I started up the hill towards Hexham a storm of epic proportions started to appear over the horizon. It’ll be fine I thought. It wasn’t fine. 

It PELTED it down, it was literally like having buckets of water thrown over me. I had my Rat Race smock on, but even if I’d had a full on PVC body suit it wouldn’t have changed anything. I ran across an open field to the shelter of some trees where there were a few other bedraggled Rat Racers looking sad under the tress. It was windy and cold and I was SOAKED. I had a drop bag at Hexham but progress was slow as it was pretty hilly and the rain wasn’t helping, making the trail slippery - and we were all wearing road shoes. 

PISSING RAIN. THESE GUYS HAVE THE RIGHT IDEA.

After about half an hour the rain started to stop - too late though - everything soaked. The sun started to make an appearance as I trotted into Hexham to my boyfriend, all dry and clean and fresh-legged. Fucking annoying. Straight into the tent of joy where there was literally a party happening. A couple of lovely people lent me towels and I changed my socks, and top, grabbed 17 packets of scampi fries and ate the most delicious chilli on earth. I heard reports that some people stayed at Hexham for well over an hour, No surprise, I could happily have lived there for the whole weekend. Best Aid Station of any event I have ever done. I bumped into my pal Spike who was taking numbers as people had come in - the trackers had stopped working. If you track my number now you will see that apparently I am still at Cawfields. Quick chat with handsome Pete Rees and me and Julius were off again. I had slightly started to lose my sense of humour - I was tired and there was still a good 20 ish miles to go but apparently it’s “all down hill from Hexham” (That’s a lie) 

NEWCASTLE IS ALLEGEDLY SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW. 

About 2-3 miles into the last ish leg and the sun came out with a vengeance - it was like a totally different day. We ran through beautiful countryside and villages where people had set up home made stalls serving fruit and water - people can be so lovely. We ran past and under rainbows and it was beautiful. I was still tired, I was taking a lot of caffiene and I had started to feel a little pain in my shins. Painkillers down my gullet and we made it to the final aid station at Newburn. 

SAME DAY, TOTALLY DIFFERENT DAY. 

Quick turnaround, coffee, cake and encouragement for our new friend Rupert, and the final leg was upon us. I got in an Ultra Mood at one point - poor Julius - it wasn’t helped by the approach to Newcastle where a load of local hoodies were sat smashing glass and punching each other. Lovely Newcastle. I spent a few miles being quiet, until finally I could see the bridge and I knew I was there. As I ran towards the line, there was Spike with my can of Brewdog - I crossed the line and opened it and I was done. 15 hours, 23 mins and 48 seconds. I’ll take that for a 69 miler post SDW100. It would have been a sub 24 if it was 100 - YAY ME I AM AWESOME. 

CLASSIC BAILEY FINISH. “I ONLY POPPED TO THE SHOPS FOR A BEER….”

The facilities at the end are AMAZING. A lovely little yacht club with a subsidised bar, hot food, showers and even a sleep room. We sat and drank and chatted to our friends, old and new, and I waited for a few Do-Badders to come in and congratulated them all. It had been a GREAT day, but one that I wish I had been able to do on fresh legs. 

This is a brilliant event for all runners. for beginners, it’s an excellent first foray into ultra’s with amazing support and organisation, and a good course for people wanting to smash out a PB. Road racing is hard, but ultra road racing is even harder. My ankles were swollen and my shins were sore but I had beer in my hand and a nice bed to sleep in. Which is good because 2 days later I was test pilot for the brand new Rat Race even Subterranean Snowdon. That blog is going soooooon! 

Mega Blog 4000 - London Marathon, Bad Cow Double, Dorchester Marathon, The Ox Epic and 100 miles across the South Downs Way.

Well I’m doing really well at this blogging malarky aren’t I? I haven’t posted in AGES mainly because i have been too busy doing all the actual running. So grab yourself a beer because this is a LONG one. 

My race diary for this year is what some people might call ‘busy’. At the moment I have 27 marathons and ultras booked, but me being a suggestible fool, means this number will only go up. April saw me complete my 5th London Marathon on what was possibly the hottest day of the year ever, plus a little trip to Dorset for the Bad Cow Frolic. Two very different races done in very different ways. 

London is my favourite road marathon - it’s home turf and you cannot beat the crowd and the atmosphere along the route. This year I was running solo - in past years I have had a number of first timers running with me, so it’s rarely actually “my” race, but this year I was running alone and so had high hopes of qualifying for Boston, with a sub 3.40. However, that most definitely was NOT to be. It was brutally hot as you all know, so I decided to be sensible and rein it in a bit. Watching people throwing up and falling by the road from mile 10 onwards was proof that I had made the right decision. Weirdly I found the crowds to be a little overwhelming this year. I have spent so much time running on trails that I am now more used to peace and quiet so having thousands of people cheering was lovely but kind of strangely uncomfortable. 

image

Here’s a picture of me NOT in running kit. 

The heat meant that I was running without a base layer for the first time in 2018, and around mile 16, I realised that the tops of my flappy little arms were chaffing on my vest, and they were stingy. I wasn’t running with my pack, so I legged it over to St Johns ambulance and asked them if they had any vaseline. They had just run out but offered me some baby oil instead. Sexy scenes follow - I am throw it all over myself, basically basting Bailey up to get mega sunburnt for the rest of the day. I finished in 3.59.40 - classic sub 4 attempt done. Was still pretty pleased - I hadn’t broken myself and I felt fine - which was good because the following week saw me trotting up to Dorset for White Star Running’s Bad Cow double. 

image

Hot metal on London marathon day 

Bad Cow is based in Burnbake - a beautiful part of the Dorset countryside. The event is run over two days - day one is the 12 hour frolic - as many laps of the 4.5 mile course as you can do in 12 hours and day 2 is the marathon. I was entered for both and was aiming for a marathon a day. There were a lot of Do-Badders signed up for this one, so we all camped together for maximum LOLS. It’s also dog friendly, which meant that we had a total of 3 dogs to help us round the course - BONUS. 

image

Bad Cow Squad - Me, George, Susi, Julius and Toby

Now the thing about having a load of Do-Badders camping together is it is NOT A GOOD IDEA. We like a drink and a chat and managed to control ourselves on the first night - a few beers, nothing extraordinary and a decent bit of sleep meant getting up the next morning wasn’t the worst thing that had ever happened. To be quite honest, I was exhausted from Arran and London in the previous 3 weeks plus work had been a nightmare the week before so I decided to trot this one out with my pals and the dogs and trot it out I did. We were taking it in turns to run with dogs, look after kids and drink beers, so all in I managed about 30 miles for the day whilst having the best time ever. That night it all went pear shaped. We stayed up til about 4am yapping and drinking beer and playing with our new fire pit, which would have been fine, had we not had to get up for the Marathon at 6am. No chance of sleeping in when the race director drives up to your tent at 5am, puts a huge speaker outside and starts blasting Cotton Eye Joe at 100DB into the tent. Thanks for that Andy. The funny thing is, I still didn’t wake up. 

It shames me to say it but this was the first race that I have ever DNS’d. I was knackered, hungover and sleep deprived - all my own fault and I will make it up at East Farm in August, but I just couldn’t run it. The best thing is that I still had my number on my leg so looking at the results, I actually did it in 4 hours. Because I went too close to the mat when shouting at someone to do press ups. Classic Do-Baddery. 

image

Having a nice time with Toby at Bad Cow BEFORE the booze started

Next up was The Ox Epic at the start of May. Now I bloody love The Ox - I ran and won the 50 last year, so this was a key race for me - I wanted to defend my title, like the competitive tit that I am. 

I was signed up to do all 4 races - The Dark Ox on Friday night (6 miles), The Ox Ultra on Saturday (50 miles), the light Ox on Sunday (6 miles) and the Ox Half on Sunday (13 miles). Completing all the races means that you get The Ox Epic medal and are inducted into the WSR hall of fame for being a bad ass. My plan was to take it easy on the dark, smash the ultra and take it easy on the light and half. I had no intention of winning the Epic, I just wanted to win the ultra.  And then disaster struck. 

A close friend of mine went missing on the Wednesday before the race, and we were desperately worried about him. On the Friday morning it was announced that he had been found dead and my whole world collapsed. I was numb and I was overwhelmed with grief. From the minute I found out I was taken care of with Susi and Julius coming to find me to make sure I was OK. I didn’t know what I was doing from one second to the next and started questioning if I should even be running. I was fine one minute, and in floods of tears the next. I didn’t know, but from the minute they turned up, I was under the care of my running buddies - constantly being watched and monitored. 

Susi drove me onto the site on Friday - we were all camping together again and the boys put the tent up. I sat there staring at nothing. I was going to run. I couldn’t think of anything else to do rather than run. I got my number on and followed them all to the start at 9.30pm. I had the wrong number on, I had to go back to the tent and get my proper number. I was such a state. Lee and Susi ran with me - it took us 1.20 to get round a 6 mile course in the dark, but get round I did. I realised that this weekend wasn’t about winning, It was about finding sanctuary through running and just getting round would be good enough. 

image

No. No I didn’t. 

After a couple of beers and some crying (yay), we went to bed ready for the 50 mile race on Saturday. The Ox is a looped course that runs across the Rushmore estate. Each loop is around 6 and a bit miles, so 8 laps gives you 50 miles. I am NOT a fan of loops but strangely The Ox doesn’t bother me at all - the route is very beautiful (apart from the long drove of death) and there are hills so walking breaks are made easy. I ran with Julius for the whole day. He was brilliant. Chatting to me when I needed to be chatted to and letting me be silent when I needed to, he fed me, made sure I drank water and kept an eye on me the whole time. We gave parts of the course nicknames to make it more bearable Crisp Mountain (the hill that you can eat crisps walking up - later renamed to Peanut Mountain when we ran out of crisps) the Forest of Joy, The Droves of Death, the Hills of Despair, Lamb Kingdom  - I think most of the other people thought that we were mental, but it works for us. We came in for the 50 at around 10 hours 30 mins - over an hour slower than my 2017 time and certainly not a win for me, but again I had got round. My demons had not defeated me and I actually felt better than I had all week. Then came the news that changed the weekend for me. I was told that in the overall results from the two races, I was second lady - with only 1 minute and 14 seconds between me and the current front runner. THANKS ANDY. In a way I wish I hadn’t found out, but now the game was most certainly on. I was going to try and win it. 

Sunday morning came - game face was on, and we set out for the start of the 6 mile Light Ox. My pals were trying to find out where the first lady was, I kind of didn’t want to know. Having looked at the results, it was clear she was a fast shorter distance runner - something I am not. I had to really make the effort on this. I started at the front and shot (well, shot for me) round the course with Julius - coming in at just over an hour and five mins. The first lady had not come in yet. The minutes ticked by, 5, 10, 15 - my lead was going up and up, and then about 30 minutes after me she came in, hobbling, and that was the end of her racing weekend. The ultra had broken her and she wasn’t going to take on the half. I was in the lead. 

Now for the final slog - The Ox Half - it had got quite hot and I was physically and mentally exhausted. Plus I had added pressure on me (that I was totally putting on myself) to bring home the Ashtray Trophy of joy. I did NOT enjoy the half. My tiredness meant my brain was doing what Lee calls Vordermaths - numbers and times and numbers and times going over and over that make NO sense, and I was completely terrified that the second lady was somehow going to make up her 40 minute time difference over the half and beat me. That was never going to happen on the half course which was SO hilly and hot. I came in at around 2 and a half hours and took the win for the ladies. I was overwhelmed, exhausted and completely thrilled to be the first lady winner of The Ox Epic. 75 (ish) miles in 3 days on what could have been one of the worst weekends of my life. It taught me that the love and care of the ultra running community knows no bounds. I also just want to do a little shoutout to the 2nd and 3rd ladies - Kirsty and Debbie who were just brilliant, wonderful humans - it was Debbie’s first ultra and she smashed it. Good work team! 

image

YAS QWEEENS! L-R Debbie, Moi, Kirsty. Fucking badass women. 


image

The spoils of The Ox Epic.

A couple of much needed weekends off and it was back to Dorset again for ANOTHER WSR event - their only road race event in the form of Dorchester marathon. This is a very different type of run to the ones I am used to - there are a LOT of people and it’s entirely run on the road - it’s sold in as Britains’ prettiest road race and turns out that is actually true - it’s beautiful. 

We arrive at 8 in the morning in the worst rain ever, Thunder, lightning, rain, humidity - all the good ones. It’s raining so much that we are doing 30 mph on the dual carriageway. I am NOT looking forward to this. We park the car and walk towards the start and it’s stopped raining. Usual pants with the usual suspect at the start - I LOVE the White Star Runners so much. The race director is in a cherry picker, which rises towards the sky and, no shit, as it does the clouds part and it’s brilliant sunshine. Now I’m not saying Andy is a God, buuuut….. Oh and guess who is not wearing suntan lotion? (Clue - it’s me) 

image

Yeah, this is better than London

image

Sweaty medal picture

The atmosphere is slightly different at this race - usually you get all the LOLS at the start but there are some really tasty runners here - aiming for PB’s and aiming to win. I ran most of the race alone which was fine, and spent a great deal of time petting lambs and goats as per usual. I bumped into a few people I knew and some who I didn’t and had some great chats. The route is relatively flat with a few big old hills, and the heat made it difficult. This was never going to be a sub 4 for me - I had SDW100 to deal with in 2 weeks and didn’t want ANYTHING to go wrong for that. I reckon I’ll be back for a better crack at it next year - as far as road races go it is one of the best in the country - would defo recommend it. Fast forward 2 weeks and we are looking down the barrel of the South Downs Way 100. 

image

Looking fresh at the 6am start of the SDW 100

This is only my second attempt at 100 miles on one day. I have done a lot of multi day ultras - I really like them! But only one 100 miler in a day (Autumn 100 back in 2017). This is another one of my key races for 2018, and I was hoping to be able to beat my previous record of 23 hours and 38 mins. One thing I hadn’t taken into consideration was how different SDW100 is from A100. 

For a start SDW had 12,700ft of elevation across the course - that’s like climbing Snowdon 3 times. It runs from Winchester to Eastbourne through the beautiful South Downs National Park. It hadn’t rained for a while and the ground was super hard packed chalk with rocks sticking out of it for most of the way - looking back on it, I should have thought about this and worn road shoes - but I didn’t do that because I am an idiot.  I had already recce’d half the route with some of the Do Badders a few months earlier - it was the last 50 we had run which was brilliant as this was the part I would be covering in the dark. 

image

Making friends on the SDW100

I was extremely lucky to have 2 great pacers for this race. First up from mile 50, Lorna Spayne - a Do Badder and very tasty marathon runner - my WSR nemesis (always beating me dammit) and very good friend what I made through the internet. Lorna is a very experienced runner, and completed her first 50 on the SDW back in May, so was perfectly placed to help pace and crew me. She is the single most organised person I have ever met in my life. She is kind, patient and fiercely protective of her runner. She crewed me from early on in the race - making sure I had all the delicious food, ice, Calippos (yes really) from very early on, and then joining me at mile 51 to run 30 miles in the middle of the night to drop me off with Lee. You all remember Lee right? Lee who force fed me sandwiches on the A100. Lee who has given me PTSD every time I hear Your The Voice by John Farnham? Yeah - that Lee.  Lee was pacing me from mile 83 to the end. A highly inexperienced ultra runner (not my words) Lee knows exactly what he is doing when it comes to pace and hills - and that is exactly what I needed for the death march. 

We started the race at 6am. I bumped into a lot of Do Badders at the start which was great - nice you know you have someone to shout FUCK YOU BUDDY at on the way round. I started the race with Tania who I know through WSR and her friend Melanie. It was Tania’s first 100 and I was SO excited for her - the first 10 miles flew but chatting about running and stuff and running and stuff.  I knew that we were running to fast - doing around 9.30 min miles when I should have been doing 11. I decided at about 20 miles to pull back and let Tania go on - I couldn’t keep this pace and expect not to start breaking and it was already getting hot. It was very challenging underfoot too - the ground rock solid and a number of splendid long slow ascents. My favourite (Fuck you long, slow ascents). At around mile 25 there is the glorious Lorna and she has got ice cubes and ice lollies and I think I love her. She fills my bottles, gets my rubbish out of my bag, refills the sandwich supplies, checks me over, gives me life and off I trot. There were a lot of VERY jealous people when they saw me fishing my Calipo out of my sports bra. 

image

L-R: Melanie, myself and Tania off to a flying start. 

image

This is my “quick photographer run” face. Mel obvs finds it hilarious. 

It was at this point I reached the dead zone. Miles 35-40 were a real challenge - I was on my own and was bored. I wasn’t at half way and I was nowhere near the end. I could feel myself starting to mentally go. Then, as if by magic, Melanie is there behind me. I am SO happy to have a running pal. We trot along laughing at stupid things, hating on cyclists, and encouraging each other for 10 miles until we reach the halfway point. I now know that I am on my way to meet Lorna and my race will get better. I reach 50 mile 45 mins short of my target - it’s hotter and hillier than I thought - but I know if I want to go sub 24 then I need to put some effort in to the 50-80 mile leg.

Lorna is a dream. She chats away to me and makes me run when I don’t want to. She asks me stupid questions and distracts me from the task in hand, asking me if I have drunk enough and eaten enough and generally pushing me on. About 10 miles into this leg another Do badder emerges in the shape of Professor Russell Banks who has bough me a can of beer. NOMS! We run along with Mike - yet ANOTHER Do Badder that we have collected en route, and drink some beer and laugh at stupid stuff. It’s at this point I bump into Tania again - she’s suffering a bit so we scoop her up and run a good few miles with her in tow, leaving her at an aid station to drink coffee. I hope that she will be OK but I have to make up my time. 

image

Hydrating like a proper athlete around mile 55 (L-R Mike, Me, Russell)

image

A Fuckwittery of Do-Badders (L-R Russell, Me, Lorna, Mike)

Lorna and I trot through the afternoon and into the evening. Head torches come on, and we are running through the darkness to the 83 mile point where I will meet Lee. At some point on this leg, I lose my sense of humour completely, but she deals with it, allowing me space to eat my Peppa Pig pasta and clean my teeth and shout  “a new fucking body” when the marshalls ask if I need anything. It would have been a much sadder race without Lorna and I am so grateful for everything she did for me. Everything is hurting, but I am so close to the end now.  

image

Lorna disappears into the night….

At mile 83 we pull into the aid station and there is Lee. Boring the shit out of everyone with his Monarchs Way tales. I grab water and some snacks and give Lorna a hug - 16 miles to go and me and Lee set off up yet ANOTHER hill. 

image

Tea with Lee. 91 miles in. 

Lee’s brilliant as always and we chat about stuff, walk up hills, he lends me his cheat sticks and I start talking to him about times. He thinks I can beat my A100 time - I am not so sure. I have been eating really well on this race and it shows. I am hurting all over and my body feels bruised, but I still have petrol in the tank and I run the downs and walk the ups and we listen to Queen and debate what their best song is for about 2 hours (It’s The Show Must Go On BTW). 

Day starts to break at about 4am. The beauty of the Downs around this time - when the moon and sun are out at the same time - is astonishing. When day breaks on a 100 mile race, you know it’s over and you know you can do it. It spurred me on and I felt like I was only getting stronger. We stop for a coffee at the aid station at mile 91 and Lee is treated like royalty. I am left to wait in the wings for my coffee and water - the marshals are very apologetic when they realise he is my pacer and I am running the race. Fucking Lee, man. 

image

Having a moment as the sun comes up and moon goes down. Thanks for the photo Lee!

We leave the aid station and trot out the next 9 miles. It starts to become a reality that I can PB this. I can do it in a faster time than A100. I start to get faster. I feel brilliant. Lee is complaining a lot about the hills. I tell him to shut the fuck up. We keep going and eventually come off the hills and down onto the road towards the finish. The road seems to go on forever, but I want to run not walk. 

23 hours and 20 mins in the end is on sight. One loop round the athletics track,  and I am done. 23 hours, 28 minutes. 9 mins off my previous time with about 7,000ft more elevation. 

image

BOOM. 

I am presented with my buckle, I get the beer out of my bag and at 5 am have a delicious beer and a hot dog. I am exhausted and elated. Second time round is not easy, but it’s easier. Thank you to Lee and Lorna for everything they did for me. I won’t ever forget it. Shout out to Melanie who finished in 25 hours - this photo says it all…..

image

So, what’s next? Well I am back with my Rat Race pals doing The Wall this weekend - just 69 miles along Hadrians Wall , followed by a pretty exciting recce in Snowdon. I will also be attempting to not leave my blog so long. If you’ve got to this bit you’re a stronger person than most - ultra reading. 

image

Rat Race Ultra Tour of Arran: Ultra Brutal, Ultra High, Ultra Fun (or “The One Where Allie is Proved Wrong”)

As some of you may know, earlier this year I was made an ambassador for Rat Race. I am a lady woman beast, and they didn’t have a female ambassador at that point, plus I spent a lot of time in Mongolia bending Jim Mee’s ear about how I thought that Rat Race events were marketed at men and brilliant fast runners, and that they were being elitist, and that scared your normal mid pack run of the mill human from taking part. That was just the impression I had from their marketing, and a lot of people had told me that wasn’t the case at all, but I stood by my guns, having never done an event (TWAT), and told him I would judge for myself. Jim listened to my rants, and after getting bored with my constant nagging, and noticing my huge gob and opinions, asked me to be an ambassador and take part in the events that Rat Race were putting on in 2018. I had already signed up for the Ultra Tour of Arran (2 days, 10,000ft elevation across and up Arran coming in at 100K) because I love Scotland and I love running. So that was to be my first one. And fuck me, was everything I ever thought about Rat Race wrong. I was so, so wrong. 

image

There she is - Arran from the Ferry Boat 

Arran’s a tricky one to get to - taking a plane, hire car and ferry to get onto the island, and me being a lazy fuck decided to hire a bell tent so I didn’t have to carry all my gear from London to Scotland. I was sharing with my Mongolia pal G-Law, and my other pals David Hellard and his “long suffering” missus Claire Briggs. The bell tents are great because they come with a mattress, bedding and a heater and I can’t be arsed with getting all that stuff up from London so it was ideal - it meant I got good sleeps, and also me and G-Law could relive the wonder of Mongolia. I was basically in a tent of over-achievers. 

image

Tent Lyf #marketing

We got there on Friday night and obviously went straight to the bar for a couple of sports pints before bed. The atmosphere was brilliant. There were a good few people I knew there - some of the Bad Boy Runners, a couple of people I had met at other races - even the people I didn’t know were lovely. There were inside toilets and showers and electric hook ups everywhere. The organisation was second to none. I was already impressed and felt pretty at home. After having our kit checked and getting our numbers, we went to bed. Or we tried to. The generators powering the kitchen were right behind our heads and they were loud AF. SO LOUD. I reckon I got about 4 hours sleep which is not ideal when you have 28 miles to cover the next day……

DAY 1

Saturday morning, and the race briefing is at 8.15am. I went to grab some coffee and food but all they had that I could eat was porridge and I didn’t want it. Mental note - must do breakfast pick up’s pre race (see previous blogs for my many fails at this). I am so, so shit at breakfast. Once again, I start a race hungry. We pick up our trackers from HQ and trot down to the beach for the briefing. There is a button on the trackers we are not allowed to press because a helicopter will come. I immediately want to press it. I bump into Spike - a Do-Badder who I haven’t met before, but he’s wearing the uniform, so I get chatting to him - it’s his first ultra - he has never even run a marathon. The closest he got was walking 26 miles the previous week with Lee-Stuart “Monarchs Way” Evans. This, my friends, is classic Do-Badder behaviour. I like Spike immediately. I’m also with Amie, another BBR runner who is a bit of a living legend in the OCR/ultra world. She has been injured for a while and like me, is taking it easy today, so we trot off together. Little do I know I will spend the best part of 18 hours with these two legends over the next 2 days, and it will be GLORIOUS.

The route for day one is quite simply epic. It takes you out across the beach at Brodick and around the south of the island in a 28 mile loop. Total elevation for the day is about 4000ft, but nobody tells you about the bogs. More on that later.  The race starts on the road, but quickly takes you up into the woods dropping down onto the coast. It’s simply beautiful, and I am having a LOT of fun trotting along talking to people. The terrain is hilarious. The beach is mud, boulders, rocks, seaweed and grass. All the slipperies. 

image

LOL terrain! (Poo emoji)

There is a good couple of miles trotting whilst trying not to break your ankle, followed by a slippery but amazing boardwalk through the woods. It’s so peaceful and so beautiful - and that makes it more difficult - you have to watch your feet, not nature, or you will slip and go flying. I like to look for seals but I am in danger of killing myself. 

Team Bog Squad on tour. 

CP one is around 10 miles in and I am starving so I eat 3 packets of crisps, 7 jaffa cakes and a packet of peanuts, washed down with a coffee in a china mug. No shit. I stuff 2 more bags of crisps in my bag and fill up my water and off we go. The next section is up hill, which is good because I need to finish my highly nutritious snack selection. The hills here mean business, and it takes a good 45 mins to climb to the top, where you return to the woodland and heath. The views are ridiculous. The weather is amazing. I am having the best time with Amie and Spike.

image

Views innit

 As we trot downwards towards the sea we have a quick stop for sock change (it’s wet from the minute you start) and so I can try and cuddle a lamb, Amie can fall off a bench and Spike can think he is attached to some tape. We quickly head to checkpoint 2 at mile 20 where I eat MORE SNACKS ALL THE SNACKS. Crisp count - now on 7 packets. Lucky I stocked up on 3 more for emergencies, because we are about to take on the woods of nightmare dreams. But not before we come across this. Possibly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen on a run. 

image

Waterfall, trees, Scotland. I am in love. 

Myself, Amie and Spike are now at that stage where you’ve had a lot of sugar and caffeine and you start to feel mental and laugh A LOT. Which is good because we have just entered the most amazing but difficult wood I have ever been in. I can’t explain it properly, and the pictures don’t do it justice but these woods are ethereal. You feel like the only person that has ever been in there. It’s like being in a film. It’s like a cross between The Princess Bride, Labyrinth and Never Ending Story. The trees are covered in dripping moss and the fog makes the greens so green and the white litchen beards on the trees glisten and it’s magical. Under foot it’s a bit like green and brown fluffy porridge - a weird, bouncy, mossy mush that feels a bit like super furry, very wet, ankle deep snow. It’s just the best ever. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be here. 

image

Fluffy green porridge (playing at a pub near you soon)

The woods give way to beautiful, foggy, still Lochs, and peat bogs, which I love to splash through. It’s now calf deep mud, moss, rocks, dead stuff; but the beauty is breathtaking and I feel like I might cry. I am so happy. 

image

Loch of death

We plough on through this 4 mile stretch of not knowing what we are standing on, laughing and chatting and being idiots until suddenly my leg vanishes beneath me; THE BOG HAS CLAIMED ME AS IT’S OWN!

image

I am literally thigh deep in peat and crying with laughter, as are my new “friends”. I eventually manage to pull myself out, when my best pal, ‘Karma’,  catches up with Spike and he ends up literally balls deep in the same bog. I am now laughing so much that a bit of wee has come out, and I can’t help him. I can take a picture though. Here it is. 

image

“Hi Pete!” “MY NAME IS SPIKE”

This is what it’s about. This is the joy of people and running. All the other runners behind us are trying to help, but we are laughing too much. Eventually we have to pull Spike out and roll him away from the bog. How I love the bog. 

The rest of the day flies by because everything is funny. We run past the remains of a long dead deer and teddies strung up in trees. Amie starts referring to farm machinery as “cannibal cages”. Spike is holding up well, and we are taking everything easy as we know we have the biggest challenge tomorrow. 

image

Cool. So we don’t have to go OVER it then?

image

We pass waterfalls, stop for snacks, drive our legs up hills and laugh on the way down. We finish day 2 tired and happy in around 7.5 hours. I spend the rest of the evening telling people that I have had simply the best day. We head to a local restaurant and eat ALL the food. Back to the beer tent for beers and debriefs with Rat Racers I have never met before who treat me like an old friend. Then it’s bed. Tomorrow we start running at 7.30am. Looking back, I had no idea just how hard Sunday would be. 

DAY 2

I wake up my camp mates (talking about you there, Hellard) at 6.30 - Hellard and Briggs are knackered from WINNING yesterday and G-Law hates mornings and his life choices. I’ve slept OK thanks to a kindly friend giving me earplugs and beer and I am all excited about heading up to the highest peak on Arran - Goat Fell. Here she is! In the cloud holes!

image

Now, let me tell you something. I have a problem with heights. A big one. I once had a panic attack on Arthur’s Seat (not a euphemism). I’m OK if there is a barrier but NOT if there is a sheer drop, narrow path and no barrier. I will never be a skyrunner. Having spoken to Jim and lovely, handsome Pete Rees the night before, I felt like I will be OK today. I’m worried about the “scramble” section but I feel like everything else is do-able. I down a coffee. I pack extra base layers and waterproofs - I know we will be up in the clouds and in Scotland you can get 5 seasons in one day. I pick up my tracker and eat a banana and half a bagel and put on my X-Talons. I wore my Altra Lone Peaks yesterday, but today is way more technical, muddy and rocky and so I opt for the deeper tread. We head to the start for the briefing at 7.15 and at 7.30 myself and Bog Squad (Amie and Spike) are off. We trot north this time, along the beach and boardwalk, past the brewery (it’s shut FFS). Quick high five from Jim - who even though he is the boss, man’s aid stations and claps through all the runners because he is just a brilliant human - and we’re up the first hill into beautiful woods and through a gate into the valley. It’s a beautiful morning and the views are breathtaking. 

image

Valley of Joy

image

There’s the first “hill..”

image

And there she is again. Jesus. Need to get to the top of that. 

I bump into Pete, who I met at Millennium Way a few weeks ago, and run with him, catching up and having lols, until he leaves me for dead - Amie and Spike are a little behind, but I feel good so press on. I can’t believe where I am. I take time to stand in the stillness. The beauty of Arran is beyond words. In the distance I can see the first ascent, I press on over wet rocks, through streams and across waterfalls. I meet new friends, I chat to everyone, I am having simply the best time. The first check point isn’t until 11 miles and I notice I am hungry already. And then we start the ascent. 

image

F.E.A.R

image

False Summit FFS. 

image

Tolken panorama

It’s power walking territory, and I am doing well. JCC and my WSR races have made me very good at walking up hills, but I don’t have any food left. It’s starting to get cold. I put on my waterproof jacket. I press on. The path narrows. It’s very wet and rocky, and I start to feel scared. I press on. I am now pretty much alone. We are going up and up and up and the path is so narrow. My heart rate increases and my chest tightens. I am very afraid. I use my hands to steady myself and the wind is picking up. I am shaking a bit. I start talking to myself, trying to calm myself down. I talk to rocks. I am now pretty much crawling up, trying to talk to anyone I pass or who passes me to make myself feel better. Up, up, up, more and more narrow. Don’t look down. Look at your hands. Be confident on your feet. And then, finally, I reach the top. And it’s a false summit. There’s another summit ahead of me and in the distance I can see the jackets of people on a ridge. I am now completely terrified. 

image

ARE YOU FUCKING JOKING M8? All the way round this ridge….

I am very hungry and I am very, very scared. The wind is picking up, whipping my jacketed almost taking my hat. I take a caffeine bullet. I try and stay positive, being false chirpy to people. I tell people I am afraid of heights and I don’t know why I am telling them this. I think I am basically asking them to stay with me, in a round about way. I press on. I start the second assent and it is on a ridgeway. To my right there is a sheer drop of about 4000ft. The wind is now so strong it is nearly knocking me over, and I am trying to look at the floor and at my hands that are grabbing the floor in front of me. I spot a small cave with moss in it and want to crawl inside. There is moss in there and I could hide there. Like a toad. I press on. I just want this to be over. There is snow and there is rain and there is wind. And then….the cloud. I am suddenly enveloped in cloud and I am calm. I can’t see anything apart from the guide flags. And this is good news. I can’t see any edges or drops. I press on and then I am coming down the other side. I am so relieved. 

image

I’ll just run down….oh….

image

I think I will make up time coming down the other side - I have my X-Talons on and so can simply trot through the bog right? WRONG. The other side is a mixture of steep bog, holes, waterfalls, streams and rocks. It’s some of the most difficult terrain I have ever come across. It takes me a lot longer than I thought coming down, and I am exhausted from the climb and concentration on not dying. The terrain is SO tough and I can feel myself fading. I have eaten all my left over snacks and so I have a gel - I am desperate. At the bottom of the descent, the trail is just as difficult. Mud, bog, streams, boulders and I am still 3 miles from the checkpoint. I miss my Bog Squad. I should never have left them. 

image

Sort of down? Right?

image

Technical 

image

I can’t wait for London Marathon

I press on. As I trot through the valley I keep checking behind me. I stop to take off my jacket - the sun has come out and it’s boiling. Fucking Scotland man! As I stop, a couple of ladies stop near me and I mention I am starving. One of them gives me half a Trek bar and I am so happy. People are so kind. And then, like a dream, I see my Bog Squad coming up the trail and I stop and wait and I am so happy they are there, and we trot our way down to the first check point at 11 miles telling each other tales of that horror mountain and laughing and identifying the many different types of bog. False Bog, Peat Bog, Horror Bog, Mini Bog. The checkpoint is at a Whiskey Distillery. As it comes into view I shout “ I CAN SEE HOUSES!” WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO DO TO ME????

image

Same day. Different world. Just past Checkpoint 1. 

It’s turned into a beautiful sunny day, and we refuel on crisps and jaffa cakes and Pit Stop Bars and coffee and we’re off. The cut offs are very real today, and we only have 25 mins to leave check point 1. I have been told that the next part of the route is 10 miles of “very runable” coastline. I was lied to. In the nicest possible way.

We run through a gorgeous village and see sheep and deer and seals, then we hit the coastline again and it does indeed look very runable. And it is. For about a mile. Then we get to this.

image

The “runable” section

We run and speed walk along the coast, and it starts to rain. I feel better now I have food in me, and I am so happy to have Bog Squad back. The boulders and rocks are never ending. We run, walk and climb over them for a good 9 miles. We see dead stuff, abandoned buildings, seals and the beauty of the sea bouys me (GREAT PUN BAILEY).  

image

Guess the ribcage is a GREAT game for bored runners. 

We get to checkpoint 2. I feel positive. I know there is another climb to come and I desperately want to reach the summit before they cut it off, so I stuff the snacks in my pack, think about changing my socks, don’t, make a mocha out of the hot chocolate and coffee at the aid station and set off. 9 miles to go. I am so glad I haven’t changed my socks because this is the first thing we have to do. 

image

River deep, mountain high, feet wet. Again. 

And now it’s raining. REALLY raining. Amie suggests we put on our waterproofs before the climb. I am so glad she did. It was the best idea ever. Waterproof trousers on, and my legs start to warm up. We trot along the rest of the coast in the pouring rain, and begin the slow climb through the valley. It is beautiful and wet and never ending. There are lambs. I can see the summit, but I am with my friends. I can do this. I can do this. 

image

See that thing in the clouds. We have to get up that. There’s Amie!

Amie presses on, the little speedgoat, but Spike is with me. Spike is a caver. He climbs in caves. He is on the second day of his first ultra and he is doing so well. I want him to finish and I want him to have fun. Selfishly, I need him to be with me. I stick with him. We begin the climb. I am every bit as terrified as before, but Spike is behind me. The rocks are wet and scary and I am scrambling again on tiny narrow steps carved into the mountain, but this time Spike is with me. I keep talking to him and he is brilliant. And then we reach the scramble. 

I have no pictures of the scramble section because I was too scared to take my phone out, but it was VERTICAL and there was a rope dangling down. There are marshalls there, and I told them I was scared and they asked me if I needed help, but Spike said he would spot me, and so I started to try and pull myself up. I grabbed the rope. It didn’t help. I couldn’t work out where to put my feet, I was so sacred I would tumble backwards or the rock would break. Spike kept helping me, supporting me mentally and physically, and telling me I could do it. The marshalls were amazing (“the rock on the left has been there for a millenium, the rock on the right has been there for an hour. Hold on to the rock on the left!”) After about 3 minutes of some of the worst fear I had ever felt, I saw the flat at the top. I fell on it on my hands and knees and crawled up to a flat step. Spike was behind me asking if I was OK. He said I should sit down and that we could have a picnic and that I should have some crisps. I sat down and got some crisps out my bag. Spike started talking to me and then I started crying. 

image

The top of “the scramble”. Or Crying Mountain as it is now known. We had run all along that valley and the people on the right at the bottom are JUST coming over the top. 

It was relief and fear and also the fact that I was so happy Spike had helped and looked after me. We sat there looking at the view, and I ate crisps, and he had a croissant (posh) and he tried to give me a cuddle but there was a rock in the way. My voice went all small. I felt very loved and very relieved. I felt that you don’t know how strong you are until you are forced to be strong. I want to publicly thank Spike for what he did that day, because I will never forget his kindness. 

Onwards and upwards. The summit had been closed early because the weather was so bad, so we had to take the lower route. The accounts from those who did summit were pretty gnarly and although I am disappointed I couldn’t go all the way,  I am glad that I didn’t have to do it. There’s always next year. And we started the downward trot back to camp and there was Amie waiting for us - the Bog Squad would finish together. We ran back through the valley and the rain has stopped. We ran through the rivers (Cleansing Bogs) the woods and down the hill, along the beach and up towards the finish where G-Law and Adam were waiting for us and we finished as a team. Spike had done it. His first multi day ultra. What a legend. I finished in 10.5 hours taking my total for the weekend to just over 18 hours and 11th lady. I’ll take that for all the LOLs I had! 

image

BOG SQUAD! Spike and Amie finish Day 2!

Post celebrations included food, beer and a debrief with Jim and Rob from Rat Race and all my new pals. We ended up at a lock in at a pub down the road, drank too much and exchanged stories. I felt tired, happy and loved. 

This was one of the single best events I have ever done. It was also one of the hardest, but I conquered it. I conquered Arran and I conquered my fears and I made a whole heap of new friends and I was proved wrong. The Rat Race family is inclusive, joyful, supportive and insanely fun. I am doing all their events this year and encourage each and every one of you to do the same. These races are for real people, people that want to challenge themselves and be supported every step of the way. There is no elitism or preferential treatment. Every single person that takes part is a fucking hero.  Here’s to Bog Squad. 

image

Happiness is Rat Shaped. 

Next up? London Marathon! 

The Jurassic Coast Challenge 2018 - Guts, Glory and Running through a Depression

Hurrah! It’s my favourite multi day ultra! I first did Jurassic Coast Challenge in 2017 and it remains one of my complete faves. 3 marathons (if a marathon is indeed between 28-29 miles), in 3 days across the Jurassic Coast - one of my favourite places on earth. The route takes you from the Golden Cap on day one to the HQ at Weymouth sailing school. Day 2 runs from Weymouth sailing school around Portland, and then back out through Weymouth finishing at Lulworth Cove. Day 3 takes you from Lulworth Cove all the way through Swanage and over Old Harry Rocks to the finish on Studland beach. Glorious. Especially when the sun is shining - which it always does, right? WRONG.

The week before had been that snowy ice week which everyone was freaking out about, so it was always going to be a little damp underfoot, but with all the rain the previous week I was actually wondering if it would be cancelled. Some of the trails on those cliffs are dangerous at the driest of times, but surely if they were muddy the likelihood of flying off the end of them was slightly higher? It was all OK though, and I got to Weymouth on Thursday night in time for dinner with my caravan mate for the week, lovely Richard Palmer. Rich is a much better runner than me, but I had told him that and he seemed to accept that if he wanted to run with me, he’d have to take it down a notch or 20.

People doing all three days of the challenge (you can also sign up for them individually) have the option to stay in a caravan for the weekend, at Chesil Vista which I love because I am weird. It has a bar where they do bingo every night and families who hate each other go in there so they don’t have to interact. It’s also where tribute acts go to die. It’s the best. It was me, Rich and my sister in our van. My sister and I have a habit of behaving like teenage boys but really clean and tidy ones. Rich was so lucky he got to share with us. SO LUCKY.

DAY 1
We trotted down to the HQ early and registered, got our maps, got a our chippy dibby thing and had our kit checked. They are super thorough at these events. Like SUPER thorough every day and you have to carry a lot of shit about with you. Then we had the briefing which, again, is very thorough (self nav yay!) and jumped on the buses to take us to the start of day one. I was in group 2 who go out first - the walkers and ‘joggers’. I made a hideous mistake last year and put myself in the running group because I was being a twat. It was SO harsh. I was literally the last on on the course. They put the speedy runners out a couple of hours after the slower people have started because they obviously RUN UP THE GOLDEN CAP BECAUSE THEY ARE MONSTERS.

image

There she is. Day 1 - The Golden Cap.

image

And here she is from the top. What a lovely way to start a 3 day ultra. Said nobody ever. 

It was pretty cold and windy and rainy - perfect JCC weather - but I was running with my sister and that made the whole thing way more fun. First part of the race is, as I said, up the Golden Cap - a hill so big you can’t actually see the top of it - then it trots its way along the “undulating” (fucking hilly!) coastline towards West Bay (or Broadchurch as it should rightly be called). 

image

BROADCHURCH! (Or West Bay as the locals call it)

Checkpoint 1 done and it’s up that MAHOOSIVE hill where little Danny died (again see Broadchurch) through fields of lambs, up and down and up and down and mud and mud and I fall over, and on to the beach (literally onto the beach). The death beach. The beach made of tiny, deep stones. 

image

The death beach. 

Only 2 miles along that then. FFS. About 3 miles before checkpoint 2 my sister is all “OMG I FEEL AWESOME! 13 miles in 2 hours!” I am all “no, it’s 8 miles in 2 hours, your watch is measuring in kilometres”. Meltdown time. Checkpoint 2 done, sadwiches, crisps, tactical poo, and we are off on the beach AGAIN and then they throw in some proper sticky mud for another few miles. Nice. 

image

There was a lot of this….


image

And some more of this……

image

My glorious sister, trotting it home to Weymouth. 

Back on the icy mud hills and cow shit fields, checkpoint 3 - MORE SANDWICHES - and along the sea to Weymouth - it starts raining about 4 miles before the end, but day one is done in a not stunning 7 and a bit hours. I’m knackered and I need a beer, but we have had a good day and taking it easy is exactly what I need to be doing. Rich is already back at the caravan. He did it in 5.40. Fuck my ACTUAL life. I go to the bar and win a bottle of Lambrini because I am so good a quizzes. More good at them than Rich is at running.

DAY 2
Here we go. Here we fucking go. I wake up feeling terrible. I am chronically depressed. I know I am and I start to panic. Anxiety, feel sick. Best have some food. I make eggs and toast for everyone and eat mine only to promptly throw it all back up again. One of the things about depression is you never know when it is going to hit you. You can be doing the best thing the world with people you love, running through some of the most beautiful scenery on earth, but if he decides to come, he will come. All I want to do is curl up in bed and die. Sometimes when I feel depressed, I am physically sick. It’s like my body is doing everything it can to make me stop doing something that will heal it. It’s horrible and I hate it and I try to explain to my caravan crew - my sister knows and deals with it accordingly - but I can’t explain because I think I might cry. Again, my body doing everything it can to stop me going out. But fuck you, depression, I won’t let you do this. Relentless, Forward Progress. So off we go to Weymouth. I try and get a banana and some coffee down me but I am scared of being sick again so I am hungry. Today we run from Weymouth sailing school to Purbeck - all the way round Purbeck and then back through Weymouth and onto  “The Rollercoaster". The hellish hills that lead to Lulworth Cove. It’s raining as we set out and it makes for some pretty epic foggy Purbeck pictures. As soon as I take the first step I know that I will be ok. This fucking illness will not rule me. I will rule it. I will. But I will walk up this epic hill first.

image

Purbeck looking pretty Game of Thrones

image

Purbeck looks stunning in the mist, and the going is good - I am even enjoying the rain. It’s beautiful up here and as we get to the first checkpoint by Portland Bill lighthouse, I realise Rich, who was in the fast group behind us, has caught us up. Jesus fucking christ the shame. I eat a jaffa cake and some crisps. I am starving. Rich decides to stay with us as we navigate the chalky hills of Portland - it like an OCR course and there are a lot of steps, hills and chalky mud. We’re a good little group though, and we have some good chats with other runners. Some beautiful sights up here - a petting zoo with wallabees, the epic ocean and a young offenders institute (or children prison as I like to now call it) NICE.

image

I hope that doesn’t fall down……

We decide not to go down the hill we came up at the start and opt for the road route down to the sailing school for checkpoint 2 where we spend 20 mins eating sandwiches. I am confident I won’t throw up again now, and I am starving. Then we are off again down the road towards Weymouth, along the promenade (where we meet an pick up a group of kids running to Lulworth who prove to be extremely annoying) along more beach and then up the first hill towards The Rollercoaster. It’s muddy AF and really hard going and I am tired, but it’s stunning. My sister starts slowing down - she knows we are nearish the end, but I know what is coming up - unrelenting hills that looks a lot like this……. 3 of them.

image

The Rollercoaster. That’s the threes hills you see in the background of this photo. Glorious. 

image

What goes down….

Even going down them is hard as it’s slippy and the tracks are narrow and the drop is sheer, but it’s here that I feel my best - I love this part of the coast and I am happy to be alive and running. Fuck you, depression. The climbs up are SO severe and the kids we picked up earlier are like mountain goats running up them. I want to kill them. When my sister asks one of them what he training for and he says “life” I actually almost punch him and call him a virgin. And then the final climb, and it’s down the hill to the end. 

image
image

Durdell Door marking the almost end of day 2…..

It’s my sisters last day today, as she can’t do tomorrow, and as much as she says I let her win I actually didn’t - I was shagged. Hard rock steps all the way down to the finish which I found extremely annoying and she was well ahead of me on those - so fair play Janey - you smashed it! End of day 2 - 7 hours - back in the coach to HQ to have a shower, a pint and a sleep. Day 3 tomorrow and it turns out it was worse than I remembered. But in my own head I had won today. 

Running besties. Two sisters at The Door! 

Day 3
So I though Day 3 was the most glorious of all the days. I don’t know why I thought this - I have done this before. It’s horrendous. In the best possible way. 

image

Day 3 starts……

Turns out this one has the most hills, the most elevation (4,500ft) and the most fucking steps. This goes out from Lulworth Cove, where we finished yesterday, to Studland beach, and it’s up and down the whole fucking way. You have the stairway to heaven/hell thrown in the middle - over 200 steps down and another 200 up and its BRUTAL. It was windy and cold and I still felt depressed and nauseous, but I had Rich with me so at least I had someone to say my last words to should I actually die or throw myself off a cliff. To summarise the day I shall use pictures and the following word. Hills, lambs, mud, hills, hills, hills, mud, lambs, wanting to die, losing direction. cheese sandwich, hills mud, hills.

image

One of the only flat bits of the day….

image

Hills…..

image

Hills…..

image

Hills. Actually watched a bloke fall down this and it was quite funny. (He was fine)

image

Stairway to Heaven/Hell…… those are god damn STEPS. 

And from the other side…..

As I a walking up the stairway to heaven, dying, a deer runs up the hill next to me completely effortlessly. Its one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I am a vegetarian, but suddenly I have a craving for venison because I literally HATE how fit that deer is.

Once you get to Swanage you know you’re almost there, so to celebrate we had an ice cream because we are professionals. The general public are bused my me and Rich running along easting ice cream. I am amused by this.  Another little beach stretch, then it’s up the final climb towards Old Harry Rocks, across the top and down to Studland beach where its a 2 mile run across the sand. 

The trail up to Studland. More mud. Which is good because I hadn’t seen much of that this weekend.

Old Harry! We be coming for ya! 

The longest 2 miles known to man. Felt like 20. 

I was struggling a bit to keep momentum at this point, but having Rich with me made all the difference. He actually did keep me from walking too much and eventually, after 7 hours, we made it to the end - I felt bad he had stuck with me the whole time but made myself feel better by telling him it was good practice for the Dead Sheep Ultra he is doing in a couple of weeks. Yeah.

So all in another brilliant race by VOTOW. Great aid stations and staff, great runners and hardly a Salomon man in sight. I would like to apologise to the marshall that, when he asked where I wanted my water bottle I replied to with “up my bumhole”. That was a joke and I am sorry (ish). So I am signing up for the ACC - Atlantic Coast Challenge in October this year. Let’s give that one a go shall we? 85 miles, 3 days and 10,000ft elevation on the JCC done. One of the most beautiful races on earth. Up next - Ultra Tour of Arran in 2 weeks!

Thanks for being a pal and running with me, Rich! Good luck at Dead Sheep next week! 

The Millennium Way Ultra (or how to keep your race when those around you are losing theirs)

So a couple of weeks ago I ran one of the most cold, brutal and fun ultras that I have ever run. The Millennium Way Ultra is organised by a little race company called Beyond Marathon, who I have never run with before, but who charge £25 for their races with literally no bells or whistles (or medals unless you pay for one). Total bargain, thinks I. Also, it’s in March, so the weather will probably be lovely and I’ve never been up that part of the country, thinks I. The race runs 41 miles from Newport in Staffordshire all the way down to Burton-on-Trent along the pretty much unmarked Millennium Way (we will come back to that in a moment). It’s flat, and a mixture of roads, villages, fields and canals. It sounds like the perfect training run, thinks I.

Fast forward to the day before the race, when once again the country goes into apocalyptic meltdown because there might be some snow or “the mini beast from the east” as nobody apart from the Daily Mail and dickheads are calling it. Just a thought people, while you’re all looking at the weather, Teresa May continues to fuck up the country. But I digress. Check emails, race not cancelled, so pack my bag and get on the train to Burton-on-Trent. Get to the hotel - race not cancelled, so get in bed with a pizza and do a sleep. Wake up at 5.30, race not cancelled but it is -2 outside, windy and fucking snow everywhere. I wonder if the race will be cancelled. Race is not cancelled.

My pal Pete picks me up from the hotel and we drive to the registration point where I get my number and tracker. It’s a bit quiet at registration. Everyone looks a bit like they’re expecting it to be shelved, and are sort of disappointed it’s not. Looking at the internet, every other race in country is cancelled. Apart from this one. Not cancelled.

Registration. A bit chilly. 

So we jump on the bus to the start. Kit wise I have nailed it. I basically have most of the kit I wore in Mongolia on, minus the salopettes. The wind chill makes it feel like -8 outside. I am snug and smug. There is a lot of chat on the bus about the route, as this is self nav - something that I am terrible at. Pete has laminated and highlighted the route instructions. I have looked at them once online and then got bored. Oops. There is actually a really good vibe on the bus - its kind of exciting doing a long race when everyone else in the country is hiding under their duvets at home.

We get out of the bus and start the race in the glamorous surroundings of a Waitrose car park. I set off with Pete knowing I have about 2 minutes before he sprints off, all long legs and brilliant at running. I settle into a 9.30-10 min mile pace and bump into one of Pete’s friends, so start running with him. He’s a bit speedy but he loves a chat, so I decide to keep up with him so I have some company. The first 9 miles is down and old railway track so it’s flat and relatively boring. The snow and ice make it way more fun than it would otherwise be, and Andrew, who I am running with, keeps me chatting so I am actually having a nice time. The wind is heart stoppingly cold and is blowing towards us, but my kit feels right and I am actually having a nice time.

Death spikes are always fun.

First 9 miles basically look like this

The aid stations are pretty well stocked on this race and there are 3 of them. They have lots of crisps. I kind of breeze through the first one with Andrew, and keep the pace up until mile 21. We’ve been running along railway tracks and canals up until this point and the wind , ice and snow under foot has not made this easy, but I am wearing spikes so am relatively confident on my feet, but I am col. As we reach mile 21, I realise that I have been clocking 9.15 min miles - way to fast for me on a 41 mile ultra - and I need to slow down. I also need to put some more clothes on. This is the first time I have put clothes ON in an ultra. I put my North Face fleece on over the top of my merino base layer and compression top - I am now wearing 4 layers in the UK in March. Ridiculous.

There is a lot of this which is quite nice. 

The next part of the route is 9 miles “across fields” that are not really marked. The conditions are fucking terrible. The fields are full of rivets, tyre marks, cow hoof prints, cow shit, ice and loads and loads of snow. I mean loads. At some points it’s knee deep. As your foot hits the surface of the field it smashes the ice leaving you ankle deep in mid and cow stuff. I’ve found a group of runners who appear to know where they are going, so I keep up with them at a much slower pace - it’s really hard to run across these fields, so it’s trotting and speedy walking so as not to break an ankle. I am laughing a lot at this point because the whole thing is so ridiculous. Running in these conditions really wears me out. So much concentration and watching your feet, whilst making sure that you are looking after yourself, eating, changing buffs as it’s so cold etc. In a way, this makes for a better race because you are so focused on this stuff you don’t realise the miles are ticking away quite easily.

You’re cold are you mates? 

Welcome to the fields of hell

Yeah. That’s knee deep snow and an electric fence. The electric fence is on. 

There are small, muddy hills and woods to scramble across and none of the terrain is less than ankle deep ice mud. It’s brilliant.

My new favourite type of mud. Ice cow shit mud. For 9 miles. 

At about mile 35 we take a detour on the road until we come to the canal again - its straight on from here and I am on my own. Its pretty lonely and its getting dark - I am cold and tired and its one of those parts of a race where you basically questions your life choices for half an hour. Eventually I get to the marina and head back to the HQ - I finish in 8 hours 39 minutes, 22nd place and 5th woman. I’d had so much fun. This is what running is about - it’s about learning and experiencing things that you otherwise wouldn’t have. Who goes out and runs 41 miles in that weather?! Also look at this. This is an ice bush. Fucking epic. 

I was also super impressed by the race company. Beyond Marathon are completely back to basics and this race was amazing. The RD was more than aware that some people wouldn’t want to drive to the race or might have to pull out early because of the cold, so he put in place plans that meant nobody felt pressured. Anyone that didn’t want to, or couldn’t, drive was automatically put forward for the Millenium Way Back in April - the same race but the other way round. Anyone that DNF’d due to cold was also added to the MWB. No fees, no transfer issues, just a really lovely gesture from a brilliant RD that meant nobody got stressed or upset about the conditions. The aid stations were great and the support staff were awesome too. Think I might give this another go next year.

What happens when you attempt to run a marathon on a grade 10/10 hangover: Larmer Tree 2018.

So Larmer is one of my favourite races for many reasons. It’s stunning, hilly and I once made a boy cry by making him run it. He hasn’t run since. It’s also the first marathon of the season for the awesome White Star Running which means there are tonnes of brilliant people there, and the aid station has beer on it. Win win basically. 

Now here’s the thing. I can become a little complacent with marathon distance, even though I’m all about the “respect the distance” mantra etc. Plus I had been pretty depressed in the week before, which lead to the perfect storm of me drinking about 5 pints of lager and some red wine the night before and eating very little food. Cue me waking up at 5.45am to get up and feeling, quite frankly, like dog shit. However I have never DNS’d a race, and I had a total stranger coming to pick me up at 7am to take me to the start, so I got up and managed to drink some coffee and get a marmite sandwich down my gullet. 


I got to the start with loads of time to spare so drank more coffee and hung out with some of the glorious WSR runners. I also bumped into a couple of the Bad Boy Running lot, who looked particularly fresh and fit and fast and that made me feel even worse. I am an idiot. At least it wasn’t raining. For the first 6 miles I felt terrible - dehydrated and knackered. I was swinging between having a tactical sick and doing something else that I wouldn’t have been particularly proud of, but I kept plodding on. I was NOT having a nice time. To be honest I think that the weather wasn’t helping - it was cold and grey and damp and I’ve been a little spoilt with weather this year - all my races have been gloriously sunny. 

THE hill. 

Not funny when hungover. Not the only hill. 

One of the things that kept me going were the lovely people around me - everyone at WSR races will talk to you, and does. Having a chat with everyone took my mind off the fact I felt like I was actually dying. The problem with feeling like this is you are too scared to eat anything. I am a shot bloks kind of girl but I didn’t want to risk it, so essentially I was starving. I also had a caffeine bullet in my pack but that was defo out. Waaaaaay to risky. I was losing my sense of humour quite fast and the race directors hilarious signs were not helping. 

I am NOT winning at this point. 

Oh piss off, Andy. 

At about mile 10 I decided to risk the shot blok. I still felt massively nauseous  which was odd because usually I can shift a hangover after 6 miles. I am obviously getting older and my liver is dying off piece by piece. Slowly but surely I started to feel like I had more energy though and I got to the halfway point feeling a little better. Only 13 miles to go. Ish. 

Oh good. Another fucking hill. 

This was essentially a training run for an Ultra I am doing next week, so time wasn’t an issue and I decided to practice my walk/run thing in the second half. Again, so many lovely people to talk to and time sped past. The route is stunning - very, very muddy, with snow still on the trails at some points. I was wearing my Altra Lone Peaks which was defo the best choice - they grip so well and it’s like bouncing about on air. The route takes you through forests, villages and farms, up the highest hills and through some totally stunning scenery. I really was trying to enjoy it. Really, I was. I had massive problems on this route with body temperature - I got very hot at the start and then it got windy so I got very cold. I had my Montane jacket so wacked that on, but I found most of it quite uncomfortable. Need to work on base layers. 

At mile 20, like a beautiful shiny beacon on the darkest of nights the Lovestation came into view. Not only that, it had a REAL LIFE PORTALOO next to it. The Lovestation is basically like the aid station of dreams. It has EVERYTHING on it and the RD had got me some mini gherkins which I was particularly excited about. And there was lovely, flat beer. LIFE IS WORTH LIVING AGAIN. You always get a cuddle too - which is an added bonus when you are having an existential crisis. 


Yep. Run down this well slippy hill. Go on. 

After 2 small cups of beer I was off again and these were by best miles speed wise - beer is magical and I really enjoyed the next 3 miles. Probably because I knew I was on the way home. My lovely mum came to cheer me on in the last mile and I eventually made it back to my shiny medal in 5 hours - not too bad for that route and did a lot of run/walking in the last half. And I didn’t do a sick. Or shit myself. Bonus. 

So yeah - this race is ACE. Wonderful crew and RD - lovely people, amazing but tough trail and I shall be back again next year - for my 4th year - and this time I will NOT be drinking heavily the night before. 

Next up? The Millennium Way Ultra this weekend - 41 flat miles oooop north. Should be fun! 

KIT LST

UD Jenny pack w/soft flasks

2XU Compression top / BBR Running vest / Montane atomic jacket 

2XU Compression tights

Hilly Twinskin socks w/ Sealskinz waterproof socks on top