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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
YAS QWEEENS! L-R Debbie, Moi, Kirsty. Fucking badass women.
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)
Yeah, this is better than London
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.
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.
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.
L-R: Melanie, myself and Tania off to a flying start.
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.
Hydrating like a proper athlete around mile 55 (L-R Mike, Me, Russell)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…..
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.