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.
Just the best…..
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
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…..
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…….
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.
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.
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.
Follow the light, kids.
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.
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!
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……
Jim and Darren survey the “track”
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.
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.
Love a water feature….
Visibility getting worse
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.
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.
Up we go - there were sheep up here - how the fuck did they get up there?
Lovely view from the top…..
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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……
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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.
Cool. So we don’t have to go OVER it then?
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.
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!
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.
Valley of Joy
There’s the first “hill..”
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.
False Summit FFS.
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.
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.
I’ll just run down….oh….
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.
Sort of down? Right?
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????
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
There she is. Day 1 - The Golden Cap.
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).
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.
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.
There was a lot of this….
And some more of this……
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.
Purbeck looking pretty Game of Thrones
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.
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.
The Rollercoaster. That’s the threes hills you see in the background of this photo. Glorious.
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.
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.
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.
One of the only flat bits of the day….
Hills. Actually watched a bloke fall down this and it was quite funny. (He was fine)
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!
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.
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.
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!
Do you know what’s glorious? The NE coast of England, that’s what. Do you know what’s not? Not having a fucking car.
On Saturday I ran 36 miles along the Northumberland coast with Endurance Life, travelling up by train from Kings Cross to Alnmouth on the Friday (which took AGES). Once I’d landed (at about 7pm), I walked into town to attempt to find a cab to take me the 30 miles to my hotel. Note people: Phones don’t work up there, Uber hasn’t managed to wedge it’s grubby paws in up there, and they operate on a different timescale to that London. A sort of “see you in a bit, pet” timescale which is endearing but annoying. I trotted into a local pub and made some new friends who gave me a few numbers to attempt to call - I had to stand on the roof of the pub shouting at my speaker phone to get signal, but eventually I found someone and started getting excited about having some delicious red wine and food and going to bed.
When I got to my hotel however, dinner was over, so I had to settle for the ultra runners meal of choice in these situations, a bag of Nobbys Nuts and a large glass of red wine. Well two large glasses. OH OK IT WAS THREE. Next step, book cab for the morning to take me to the start of the race. Except there are no cabs, and when you ask them to take you somewhere at 6.30 in the morning they tend to laugh at you. This was my first lesson in northern hospitality - the barman was so wonderful he offered to drive me himself in the morning - he wasn’t a murderer, I could tell. Lucky for him, I managed to find a guy called Chris to pick me up, and he didn’t seem murdery either, so off I went to bed having had at least two glasses too much wine and no dinner. This was my first mistake.
Fast forward to 6am the next morning. I woke up STARVING with just an M&S egg sandwich (which I had bought as emergency supplies) to my name. And some salt and vinegar crisps. That’s breakfast then. But I usually have a LOT more to eat than that before a race this long - I kind of hoped to pick something up at the start.
Bamburgh at 6.50am.
Registration was at Bamburgh Castle which was a few miles away from my hotel. The deal is you get there, get briefed, get on a coach and they drive you to the start 30 odd miles away near Alnmouth. Theres a 10k, half, marathon and ultra and they start them all off at 30 min intervals. Defo time for a coffee and some food right? Wrong - no coffee, no food. Sad (hangry) Bailoid.
I’ve been warned against Endurance Life events, simply because people have told me they lack soul and feel very corporate. Plus there is always the threat of SALOMON MAN (aka my nemesis) or even worse a pack of them; guys running in all the gear with no idea how to communicate with other people. The serious guys that look like they are having a really shit time all the time; the ones that when you say a cherry little “Hi!” to them, they look at you like you’ve just shout FUCK YOU and thrown a bag of sick at them. Those guys. And there were loads at the start of this race. It just makes me feel really uncomfortable. I really do know better than this, but it makes me feel like I shouldn’t be there, although in reality I have as much right as everyone else. I just don’t think a social event like a race should feel like the start of The Hunger Games. ANYWAY, I managed to find (after looking for some time) a couple of lovely people that I could have a chat to and then I started to feel better - they shared my opinion that we’re in it to enjoy it, not DNF when we realise it won’t be a PB. There are no toilets at the start of the race, or during the race, so a few people made the last minute dash to the toilets. I did not. This would come back to haunt me later.
So briefing done (“Your mandatory kit will be checked at the end of the race” WHAT?!), we got on the coaches and set off for the hours drive down the coast. The race starts in Lesbury and the first part is across fields and through woodland - my favourite - and it was a beautiful sunny (freezing) day so I was trotting along very slightly hungry, but OK. We ran through forests and under amazing viaduct and out towards the coast at Alnmouth. It’s very mixed terrain here - from very muddy trails to very sandy beaches (that you run on for a while) with a couple of hills thrown in here and there. there are also some road sections later in the race, which were less than welcome, but overall I reckon I’d describe to as do-ably technical. At some points we were running in ankle deep streams and estuaries that were running into the sea. you’re feet get wet and you get cold but that’s fun right?
As I mentioned, there is a lot of running on the beach on compacted sand, but the views are just breathtaking. We were extremely lucky with the weather - this would have been a completely different beast if it was pissing down with rain. We also had the wind behind us which really helped - again if the wind had been blowing the other way, I very much doubt I would have enjoyed this so much. About 10 miles in I started to feel rubbish. I was REALLY hungry now. I had managed to find a bounce ball in my pack and had been munching on bits of cliff bar and jelly babies but they weren’t cutting it at all. Ironically, I wanted a cheese sandwich. Miles 10-15 I listened to a podcast to try and shut my stomach up, and then made the fatal decision to have a couple of shot bloks. On a pretty much empty stomach. I hit the aid station at 19 miles and it wasn’t looking or sounding good. I needed to do something you just don’t do in the middle of a National Trust Car park.
The next section of the run was through the dunes - which afforded me a bit of privacy - enough to sort out the issue - and then feel massively guilty about it afterwards. But I did feel better - still starving but not completely nauseous. This run was a lesson to me that I HAVE to be more prepared when it comes to food. I just assumed it would be readily available. About mile 21 I considered doing a dash into a fish and chip shop, and on reflection really should have. At miles 22 there was an aid station with crisps. Delicious crisps. I stopped and ate all the crisps.
Don’t go in the dunes when theres an ultra happening and no toilets on the course.
Miles 23 - 26 were along the beach - challenging but beautiful and then we split off - the marathon runners up towards the castle and the Ultra runners out for their 10 mile “loop of glory” round the castle. Again amazing scenery, but I was very far behind the pack and this made for a bit of mental battle. I kept the demons away by talking out loud to every animal that I met. I love cows.
Here are some nice pictures.
The issue with this part of the route is that not only have you run past the end point, you can also see it for the whole extra loop you’re running. A lot of this is on country roads, so not loads to look at, apart fro the castle teasing you for 10 miles, and it goes out and back on itself a bit. Cue me shouting “FOR FUCKS SAKE” on more than one occasion. It was OK though because I was on my own for most of it. If a runner swears and nobody hears, them did they really swear? (Yes. A lot)
The finish is up at the castle, and as I had expected it was a pretty lack lustre affair. Don’t get me wrong, the staff are lovely and kind and I had some good chats at the aid stations, but there’s not a lot of celebration to be had. You get in, get your medal (the medals are rubbish) get a T shirt that says nothing about the event on, and then go and get your bag and piss off home. No bar, no hanging out, no chats. This was probably because it had taken me 7 hours to get round, but I felt like they were pretty much packing up and I definitely wasn’t the last person on that course.
So yeah. An extremely beautiful race with no personality behind it. Well organised, nice staff, aid stations are ok, runners are pretty serious, nifty and dull. This is the David Gandy of Ultras. Beautiful to look at but dull as shit. If I was going to do this again, I would do it with a crew of mates and we would probably have the best time ever. I would also eat a meal of food or two beforehand. And use the toilets at the Castle. Lessons learnt. Next up, Larmer Tree Marathon in 2 weeks!
The final morning we woke up in what looked like a lycra refugee camp. There were 7 if us in the Ger PLUS the Fire Fairy who had been keeping us warm all night, and we were all freezing. The mattresses laid directly on the floor meant that the cold was creeping in from the floor. Breakfast was bought to us in ‘bed’ (what a treat) and was something made of tomato and some other unidentified objects mashed together with slightly less frozen bread, but God was it delicious. And there were biscuits, so many biscuits. I stuffed as many as I could in my pack because biscuits don’t freeze do they? (Spoiler - they do).
Lycra refugee camp breakfast in bed…..
Today was the longest day - the run back to base camp ending at the frozen ships stationed at the edge of the lake. It was around 36 miles and I was determined to get through it. We got up, packed our packs (difficult when you have 7 people faffing in one Ger) and packed our rucksacks onto the vehicles and headed out to where we finished the night before. At this point I was quite breezy……
ICE FLOW, NOWHERE TO GO……
Then off we trotted. Again G-Law and Darren led the pack with myself and Lee behind them, trotting along across ALL the different types of ice. Today there was the option of riding the bike, and we decided that we would put the person at the back on the bike to ride to the front and then send the bike to the back of the pack on a pony and start again - to make sure everyone could keep up with the pace. I did NOT want to get on the bike, which led to me being alone for very long periods of the time. Lee DID get on the bike.
I couldn’t listen to music because my headphones were frozen, and after a few hours I began to feel the familiar feelings of hopelessness and depression that creep in when I am tired and left to my own devices for too long.
I think a lot of people think I find this running stuff easy, but I don’t. I’m not the fastest, strongest or best runner. I don’t win things. There are dark times in long races - I remember about 6 miles from the end of the Autumn 100 I actually had a cry because I was so sad it was almost over, I hurt so much and I couldn’t see the point in what I was doing. Plus Lee kept trying to feed me cheese fucking sandwiches and listening to John Farnham. At the end of the day, nobody cares if I achieve this or anything else. Nobody else cares but me. And that’s the important part. The fights I have in my head like this are important because I need to win them to survive. And if I can win them, even the smallest ones, it’s another step forward.
Long stretches on my own. Not so fun.
I remember just standing completely on my own, looking out onto the lake stretching before me for what seemed like forever. I tried to take it in, and commit how beautiful and quiet it was to memory and how lucky I should feel. I was sad it was coming to an end, but there was also an overwhelming sense of relief. I was tired. I felt depressed and deflated, so I refused to eat at the aid station and snapped at lee when he tried to warm me up. I was very hungry. I lost almost three quarters of a stone over the course of this week and I wasn’t taking on fluid because all the fucking fluid was frozen. My gels and shot bloks were rock hard, and even when I had defrosted them down the front of my sports bra, they made me feel sick.
But I kept going forward. I wasn’t getting on that bike. I started playing number games - run for 200 steps and walk for 100. God, I hate that game.
Playing the count the steps game was pretty dull. Ice looked good though.
After what seemed like days on my own, I finally saw G-Law and Jim up ahead so I started to make the effort to catch up. Jim had been skating the whole way and Darren had gone on ahead of G-Law because he’s epic and can do running really good. I eventually managed to reach them, and it was awesome to have some people to talk to. I think G-Law could tell I was suffering, and it was then that he took on role of carer without me even asking.
I’ve known G-Law for about a year. He’s a member of the Bad Boy Running group, and we take the piss out of him for being a triathlete, because we all know they are precious wankers who basically do a sport that is code for cheating and get iron man tattoos. I’ve never really spoken to him at length when we’ve not been drunk post race, but what he did for me that day I will never forget. He showed such amazing kindness in supporting me through the last 10 or so miles and he didn’t have to do that. I was over running, so over it. I was running a bit and then walking more than running and it was getting dark. I didn’t want to be pulled off the ice but I was so tired it was hard to motivate myself to run. I couldn’t see then end and had no idea how far we had to go. We asked a few times and got estimates from the drivers and guides of between 7K and 12K depending on who you asked. This estimation game went on for miles. The lake was just going on forever and we were the last people out there. My watch was dead and I had not idea how far we had come.
We bumped into Lee who was even more into walking than me; he eventually got on a pacing pony and trotted off. G-Law kept me talking. He was funny and kind and we talked about everything from depression (Him: “I don’t know anyone with depression” Me: “I bet you fucking do they just never talk about it”) to races we wanted to do, to work and home life and I was pleasantly distracted. Because he is such a good egg, he had been carrying a plastic bottle of his own piss with him for the whole day (don’t pee on the sacred lake!) He was using it as and when he needed to avoid going on the lake. It had now turned into a delicious wee slushy that he was carrying in the front of his pack. My favourite moment of that day was hearing his yelps when he had to use it, and obviously misjudged the depth of the icy wee. Poor G-Law.
Views on the final stretch….
Sun’s going down…..shiiiiiit….
Every corner we turned, there was still no end in sight. The sun was going down and I was anxious and cold. Everything hurt and I was excruciatingly tired. Still G-Law kept me moving, running a little and then walking, not putting pressure on me to do anything that I couldn’t do. He’s much, much fitter than me so this must have been very frustrating for him. And then, suddenly, like a mirage, the ships came into view. I was overjoyed. I took one last look behind me at the pink sky over the islands, and we trotted forward, crossing the”finish” line together. I was so relived and happy, and there were the rest of the team clapping us in. It was magical. And I just wanted a beer. And a sleep.
That night we were back at our first camp. The adventure was over. We had dinner with the Mongolian team who once again astonished us with their hospitality and good humour and then retired to our fully heated sheds for a good nights sleep before making the trip back to Ulan Bator for the Ambassadors reception, a shower and a real bed. I made friends with a stray dog that night, and the boys told me off. (Lee: “Now he associates you with food!” Me: (Overjoyed) “I KNOW!!!!”)
So we were done. I have been home now for 2 weeks, but I don’t think the enormity of this adventure has actually sunk in. The dust has settled, the pictures have gone up and it’s back to normal. But it’s not back to normal, because I have learnt so much from that week on the ice, and some of the things I learnt will genuinely go on to help me change my life. I have learnt once again that I am stronger than I give myself credit for. I have learnt that the kindness of strangers knows no bounds. I have learnt that I am good in a team and that it doesn’t matter what job you do or your social status or what you look like, if your heart is strong and kind, you will be able to form lasting relationships. I have learnt I need to keep running and training to battle the demons in my head, but that I will win the battle. I have learnt that it’s OK to lean on people for help (and warmth, sorry Lee and Darren!). I have learnt that sometimes it’s OK to just be you, and that is enough.
A week or so after I got home I got an email from Jim, the head of Rat Race and our intrepid skater. It was one of the kindest emails I have ever received. It said this.
“I am sure you know but you are a machine. I know you were hell-bent on covering the whole thing on foot. The way you kept going out there and just stuck your head down, you became the first woman to do it (that we know about but hey, I am pretty sure that is not in doubt!). I know it was not all about ‘being the first’ and we all saw it for what it was, which was a brilliant adventure, but just for the record I wanted to say that your performance was quite remarkable. Really. I hope you are royally proud and really feel the substance of what you did out there”
Sometimes it takes someone else to make you stop and think for a minute and I AM proud of myself, and my team, and David our Sandbaggers guide and his team, for everything they did for us. I am sure that this is just the start of the story for me. There’s a big old world out there and someone needs to run round it. For now, I hope whoever reads this takes from it strength, spirit and the knowledge that YOU are amazing and YOU can achieve anything. Cheesy but true.
Our first night in the make shift Gers was “challenging”. I woke up at about 4am with what I was sure was frostbite. In the pitch black I felt confused and very fucking cold. I was wearing all my kit and my onepiece and I had put my North Face jacket on in my sleeping bag but still I felt freezing. The fire was on, and we had a native sleeping in our tent, making sure it didn’t go out. There was also a hole in the top of the tent to let smoke out. Being that cold makes you very confused - it feels a little like being drunk. I know I should have woken the boys up and got in with them but I didn’t I just lay there being cold and a bit scared. Our mattresses were just thrown on the floor and the cold was coming through them . I was going to have to change these sleeping arrangements for the next night.
After another fitful couple of hours, we were up at 7 am to organise kit and eat - this morning we had beef stew and frozen bread. It really was delicious. Really. It was.
Breakfast of kings…….
This morning view isn’t so bad I suppose.
Today we had a run of between 25-30 miles to the second island on the lake where we would spend our next night. The island looked pretty close. Yeah, I thought, we can manage that. But perception on ice is very much like perception in the sea. It was VERY far away.
Then mini disaster struck. My day pack that had all my kit for the days running (buffs, gloves, hats, food) had been put into one of the support vans accidently and was now halfway across the lake. I had no support pack! Shit! How can I run without this stuff? Easily it turns out….. people are kind. Darren lent me his buff and hat and I borrowed some gloves from Ian and jumped on a sledge. My plan was to chase down the van and get my pack and then get running. Problem with this was I wanted to complete the run on foot, not on pony, so I was going to have to make up the miles.
I jumped onto a sledge and was covered with fur by my driver and off we went - the ponies trotting fast across the ice, in search of the pack. It was awesome. I felt very ‘Game of Thrones’. After a couple of KMs I realised my pack was too far away. I wanted to run, and I thought I would be able to do this in the little kit I had so I jumped off and joined Darren and G-Law on the ice. They are such wonderful humans. We ran along for a few miles with me borrowing bits and pieces off them until we reached the first truck stop - AND MY BAG! So happy to have it back.
Today felt much more relaxed than yesterday - nerves had gone and it was about getting through it. It was almost fun! I ran a lot of the way with the boys, chatting and basically going mental. We decided to try ice surfing - breaking of bits of ice and trying to use them as body boards. Unsuccessful. More successful was ice ball - like football but with ice - and that got us a good mile or so without getting bored. I think we may have started going a it mental. We ran from sunrise to sunset and then got the bike and skates out to mess about on. Turns our Darren is a bit of a demon ice skater. Here are some wonderful pictures of our days trot.
Like a shit Reservoir Dogs…..
Beauty on ice
Why isn’t that island getting any closer??
10 miles in. Island still FAR AWAY.
Tonight was a similar set up to the night before, and we had already agreed that body heat was the way to go. ALL the runners were in one Ger tonight and I didn’t care who was sleeping next to who we just had to keep warm. The camp was set up when we arrived - but extra special treat time - it was Burns Night! David, our guide, is a very proud Scot as are Alistair and Ian, so the fire was lit, and the Haggis was presented in true Scottish style with Alistair braving the temperature to play the bagpipes for us in a KILT and a very thin top. This was probably the most mental thing I have ever seen. But I promise it happened readers, I promise it did!
Evening draws in end of day 2.
Burns Night dinner with the best
Camp number 2.
Loo with a view
Dinner was Reindeer leg and liver and it was amazing. Sorry Rudolph, but you are just delicious. Out came the Vodka to toast Burns night and then we had a VERY special treat. A local Shaman had come to the camp to perform a blessing ritual.
There are 2 main religions in Mongolia, Buddhism and Shamanism. Mongolian shamanism is an all-encompassing system of belief that includes medicine, religion, a reverence of nature, and ancestor worship. Central to the system were the activities of male and female intercessors between the human world and the spirit world. The ritual started with the Shaman taking deep breaths from a bag of herbs and donning a huge amazing coat and mask. She then started an all encompassing chant, hitting her horse-skin drum, growling, speaking in tongues and throwing herself around the camp to the point that she actually fell INTO the fire at one point. It was terrifying and amazing at the same time. It’s unlike anything I have ever seen and we were so lucky to have been trusted and allowed to witness this.
A real life Shaman….
With dinner over it was time for bed - no chances taken - and I was straight in between Darren and Lee to try and make the most of the body warmth. Tonight we needed to sleep because tomorrow we had our final crossing to make and it was going to be a long one.
So last night in the Gers was hilarious, mainly due to the fact that they were SO HOT I ended up taking most of my clothes off and sleeping in my sports bra and leggings. The fire fairies had done such a good job that it was hotter than the sun in there. Opening the door was quite a shocker. We were set to leave at sunrise around 8.30am so got up and got dressed in all my layers and went up for a breakfast of coffee, some kind go solid cream and eggy bread. Classic ultrarunning food. Today was the first day of running and there was a palpable nervousness around the table. We still didn’t know what to expect on the ice. At around 8.30 we gathered on the lake - the boys were looking epic.
L-R: Jim, Rob, Darren, Lee and G-Law #lads
And then we started to run.
I felt quite overwhelmed at the start of the run. I thought I might cry. The little bells on on the harnesses of the horses tinkling as they ran just in front of us, and the beauty of the lake and the sun coming up was beyond anything I had been part of before. The crunch of our spikes on the ice and the feeling that we were doing something so epic was humbling. I felt very lucky. I managed to keep a decent pace for around a mile and a half and then decided to have a little walk. Mainly because I already looked like this…..
Turns out running on ice in -45 is a lot harder than running round the trails of Victoria Park in +10.
Kit wise I had made an error. I was wearing 3 pairs of tights but no salopettes as I thought I would warm up. In addition I had 3 pairs of socks on and my feet were freezing. At about 6 miles my glutes (that’s my arse, guys) started to feel cold and it got to the point where they were SO cold that I couldn’t feel them - every step was agony - it felt like I was running with two huge bruises on my legs . Can you get frostbite on your bum? Would it fall off? (Hopefully….). I needed another layer and why were my feet so cold? In the meantime, Lee’s spikes, which were made of plastic, decided to snap in half. LOL. We had been running for just over an hour. We stopped at a support van to sort ourselves out. I needed to put on salopettes but I didn’t have a belt and they kept falling down. Lee needed some new spikes (I had a spare pair) but no belt. The broken spikes had been held on with two straps so Lee suggested that I fashion a belt out of them while he took the spare spikes. God, we are geniuses. I also couldn’t work out why my feet were so cold - surely more socks means more warmth. But thinking about it, my feet couldn’t move because they were so compressed. Maybe if I took OFF a pair and they could move better they would get warm - bang on the money, it worked.
After picture of Lee’s spikes. One out of five on Amazon reviews….
As I stood at the van, faffing and trying to make things better, one of our Mongolian support crew came up to me and started pulling at my tops, none of which were tucked in. I couldn’t work out what he was getting at, until I saw that as he was shaking my tops, snow was coming out of them. Because I hadn’t tucked them in, my sweat had turned into snow INSIDE my jacket and was falling out onto the floor. It was mental. After a while, he managed to tuck me in, and on went the jacket and we were off again. The Mongolians know their shit, even when it comes to ultrarunning - I didn’t make that mistake again. My bum cheeks started to come back to life under the salopettes.
Darren and G-Law were a lot faster than me, because they are a lot fitter than me and are men and are just all round legends, so myself and Lee stuck together for a while, running and then walking and talking shit as usual. I wanted to run more, and so eventually the group spread out.
There were points on this run where I was completely alone. It was both brilliant and terrifying to be out there with not a person in sight. But these are the times that I can think clearly and I appreciate them. They are also the times when you can dip, the demons come, and the thoughts get too much and start to take you the other way. But this was day one, and I was able to focus on the glory of the surroundings and bask in what I was trying to achieve, which was get to the camp before dark and in one piece. There are a lot of very different types of terrain here. All ice, all different. Here are a few.
Looks like water - is ice……
Snowy ice with big cracks in….
As the day got warmer (up to a balmy -38 at one point!) the ice started to do it’s cracking bang bang fun times thing. Lee had caught up by this point (he’s a fan of jumping on the pony sledges….) so we had a sit on the ice to take it in and feel the vibrations - I tried to record some of the noise but it didn’t come out. I like the fact Lee is sitting in this video like a petulant child though…..
I spent the last third of the day on my own. Navigating the lake was easy in that we followed the lead of the ponies and the van tracks, and after 5 hours of running I could see that camp for the night was in sight and it was beautiful.
Camp is in sight!
Home for the night…..
View from the front door….
Heating for the night….
Our Mongolia crew had gone on before us to set up our makeshift Gers for the night. These were simply tents set up on the open ground with mattresses on the floor. I didn’t realise what an issue this would be until later on that night. They were busy chopping up wood for our fire and getting it stacked, so we helped ourselves to hot water and I thought about getting changed. But I didn’t get changed. Because it was too cold. Off came the salopettes and on went the onepiece and North Face over the top of everything else. This is how I would stay for the rest of the trip. I didn’t get changed once.
That night we all sat around the roaring fire in the freezing cold, trying to stay warm. As we settled in, we could hear the wolves in the hills howling. It’s something I will never forget. Magical. We were rewarded for the 26 mile day with a wild boar stew and some frozen beers.
The Mongolians joined us, and encouraged us to take part in an after dinner ritual that involves boiling a pan of cow bones and then seeing which of the men can break it with his bare hands. This was a BRUTAL thing to watch. The guys just punch it until it breaks and this bone took a particularly long time to break. Darren had a go, but was relieved to see that it took another half hour for one of the natives to break it after he’d tried. Then it was to bed - we had another long day ahead of us and so sleep was important. The Mongolians went out looking for a wolf to shoot for our breakfast. We had no idea how difficult that sleep would be.
Stepping out of Ulan Bator airport is something I will never forget. The cold hits your chest the minute you breathe in, making you cough and panic at the same time. The handles on the airport doors are so cold, your hands stick to them. And we haven’t even left for the ‘countryside’ yet. It is at least -40 outside and it is 7am.
As fans of my incredibly informative and amazing blog, you’ll know that we’re here to run across Lake Khosgol in Mongolia. At 85 miles long and 262m deep, this is the second largest body of freshwater in the world, and at this time of year is completely frozen. The ice is 70 cm thick and we are going to trot all over it. We’re a good little team. There’s me, Lee, Graham (G-Law to those in the know) Darren and Sally who are the guinea pigs, and Jim and Rob from Rat Race. We will all be running but the adventure is ‘by any means’ which means we have a bike, skis and skates if people want to use them. I am hell bent on doing the whole thing on foot.
From the airport we get in a tiny 12 seater plane and travel for 2 hours across the snow covered mountains north west to Murun. The windows of the plane ice over when you breathe on them. It’s cold.
Tiny plane of dreams
Views on the way to Murun.
From Murun, we are bundled into various vehicles - ours was an old Russian military van which looks like it had seen better days. How wrong I was. This van turned out to be a total badass.
We drive for 2 hours through the Mongolian countryside, spotting ponies and yaks wearing little coats on the roadside, to our base camp at Khatgal. Here we met our wonderful Mongolian hosts who showed us to our Gers - custom built tents with wood fuelled stoves in them. This is where will will stay for tonight.
Home sweet home
Relying on this bad boy to keep us alive……
We spend the rest of the day trying to get acclimatised to the freezing temperatures (impossible) and testing out out kit on the lake. I am wearing 4 layers of tights (compression with 2 breathable pairs over the top and a winter pair on top of that) PLUS salopettes. I’m wearing a base layer top and 3 more layers including a North Face fleece and North Face down jacket on top. I am still cold. My feet have 3 pairs of socks on them and my little paws have 2 pairs of gloves. Everything is cold. This is ridiculous. This is my face having been outside for 3 minutes.
We attach our spikes to our shoes and head to the lake. Stepping out on the ice is hilarious, we’re all slightly scared it might crack. It can’t crack. It’s frozen solid and 70cm thick. We do a few short runs testing out how slippery it is. It’s a dry cold so not slippery at all. Water can’t sit on the surface. It’s too fucking cold! It’s like running on a big glass table. My spikes are working like a dream, my lungs are not. Breathing the air is so hard out here, and it’s at this point I start to realise how much of a challenge is facing us. Best thing to do is have a beer. Our main point man in Mongolia, David, produces a few cans of local beer. Problem is standing outside with them means they almost immediately freeze. I’ve never had to warm up my beer before. This will become a running theme over the course of the week.
Tonight we sit down to a delicious dinner, home cooked by Dava, one of our brilliant hosts. Tonight it’s a mushroom and seaweed soup and delicious Mongolian dim sums AND we have entertainment in the form of a local musician playing a traditional Mongolian Kayagum - it’s a stringed instrument that sits upright like a piano, and is plucked. We also have Alistair - one of our Scottish support team - and his bagpipes so it’s all of the LOLS with the Mongolian, Scottish and British national anthems and some terrible singing from everyone.
It’s our first night in the Gers, and because I am scared of the cold I keep ALL my clothes on, plus my one piece and a fully zipped 4 season military issue sleeping bag. Little do I know that I now won’t be getting changed for 5 days…….. Each Ger has a Mongolian “fire fairy” who pops in and out throughout the night, restocking our fire every 2-3 hours to keep us warm. Our beds are off the floor and I sleep well and am warm, maybe too warm, for a lot of the night. The boys in the other Ger take it upon themselves to stack their fire, not knowing that the fire fairy exists, basically turning their tent into a pizza oven that you can see from space. At one point they are all in their pants with the door open. Boys eh?
The other issue is going to the bathroom. At night, it is pitch black and obviously the toilets are outside. OUTSIDE outside. Whatever you do in the long drops steams up around you. It’s not pleasant. And you get stuck to the seat. And top tip, when you come back into the Ger and attempt to grab a pole, make sure it IS the pole and not the hot flue of the chimney. That hurts. A lot.
The next morning we get up early and pack our stuff into the vans. Lee says that it’s so cold that hot water will freeze the minute it hits the air and as usual, we don’t believe a word of it, so we try this with a cup of hot water. It works. It blows our tiny minds.
I go to clean my teeth with a bottle of water I have had defrosting next to the fire. Within 90 seconds of being outside it has started to freeze. I buy a fox fur hat and some socks made of yak fur from one of the local sellers. OH MY GOD THE SOCKS ARE SO WARM. I know that some of you are going to get all up in my grill about my foxy hat, but I can honestly say it’s the only way to keep warm. These things are a necessity, not vanity, out here, and everything is responsibly sourced - nothing goes to waste. The Mongolians have lived like this for hundreds of thousands of years and they know what they’re doing. And my head is SO WARM.
Today we drive across the lake to our start point. We are traversing the lake from north to south and are currently in the south - the drive will take 4-5 hours and will be entirely on the ice. We are in all our gear and have a huge furry Deel (a Mongolian fur lined coat) over our legs to keep us warm. We are still cold.
The lake is beautiful. It is immense and intimidating. It’s the most hostile environment I have ever been in. There are so many different types of ice to drive over, and every now and again we have to stop for an enormous crack in the lake, inspect it, and then drive as fast as we can over it. Not scary at all.
That’s quite a crack……
Oh good….. there’s some water…..
We stop for lunch on the lake - some hot stew and a beer, obviously. I spill my beer on the ice. It freezes immediately. I am sad.
Crying over spilt beer.
Our new Mongolian friends give us all a Deel each to put on and we spend some time on the ice, getting used to the feel of it and the sounds that go with it.
Doing my best Bjork impression on the lake in my Deel……
There are bangs and cracking noises all around us - this is where the water under the ice ebbs and flows and the ice cracks under the pressure, sometimes splintering up forming huge cracks and smaller faults. The sound is terrifying, and can come from anywhere. The only thing I can compare it too is the sound of thunder. I am so glad that we have had today to ‘get used’ to this and understand why it’s happening. Having said that, I’m not sure we will ever REALLY get used to it. It’s a petrifying experience, and you can’t run away from it because it’s all around you.
We bundle back into the cars and head to our next base camp at Khankh at the north side of the lake. These are DELUXE Gers with actual floors and everything! Here we meet our pacing ponies (well they’re not pacing ponies but they are the ponies that will pull our sleds) and have another delicious dinner of stew before heading to bed. Tomorrow we start running at 8.30am and I can’t wait.
Sunset on the lake…. (hashtag no filter….)
Ger camp 2 and pacing pony!
Deluxe Ger alert! (I should have made the most of this……)
So I have spent the last week doing every type of yoga imaginable, running a bit and self diagnosing tendonitis in my achillies. In one weeks time, I will be on the ice and I feel immensely under prepared. To be honest, I always feel like this before a big run, but the thought of forgetting something, or something about the run surprising me, you know like it being cold, is a little too real. Anxiety city. Population me.
So what do I do when I feel like this? I panic buy! That’s what! Throw money at the situation and it will all be ok! BUY MORE SOCKS AND YOU NEED THAT JACKET AND OHHHHH GELS……
I think I have pretty much nailed my clothing plan for this race now. Bottom half I am going to go for 2XU compression tights, because they are awesome and I have worn them at every race for a good 6 months now, but I’m pretty sure I will be hypothermic within 2 minutes if I just wear them on their own. So I’m going to test wearing the compression with Wed’ze freshwarm tights over the top and my Nike dry fit winter tights over the top of that because they have soft fleecy stuff in them. Hopefully this means I will be warm but not sweaty. I’ve also got some black salopettes to go over the top if that - a bit of a wind and waterproof barrier, but fingers crossed I won’t need them. The salopettes don’t have a tailored leg, so I’m going to take my waterproof Gore-Tex full leg gaiters to keep my calves and ankles warm and dry.
The gloves I have chosen are the Salomon Propeller mitten with a separate merino liners. I am so scared of getting cold hands or losing a glove, that I’m also taking a few cheap pairs of wool gloves to use as liners just in case. Lee is adamant I should get poles, and to be fair they were really useful during the Autumn 100, so I have bitten the bullet and gone for Black Diamond Carbon poles with carbode tips - as recommended by Lee. (Fuck you, Lee.) They fold up and are super light weight - better safe than sorry and I can use them as weapons if Lee attempts to feed me cheese sandwiches. I’ve also bought a slightly more expensive spikes - Katoohla Microspikes which look badass - mainly because I’m worried the ones I have will fall apart and I’ll end up sliding across the lake like a lost hippo.
To stop my face falling off, I am opting for a merino balaclava and some spare balaclavas, including this one that will make me look like Hannibal Lecter. And ALL the buffs in the world.
I’m taking goggles and sunglasses and a girly hat too because you have to keep your hair looking nice right? Never know who you’re going to bump into on a frozen lake in the middle of nowhere….. (spoiler alert…probably nobody)
We will have ‘sherpa’ taking the majority of our stuff across the ice using ponies (who I SHALL be cuddling) and sledges, but I am going to run with my Ultimate Direction Fastpack filled with snacks. I can also fit a bladder in there close to my body so the water doesn’t freeze. Or I could fill it with vodka I suppose….(when in rome). I am super worried about food. I like food and I need a lot of it and the local fare veers between BBQ’d wolf and sautéed reindeer. I’m a vegetarian, but for that week I definitely won’t be. But what if I don’t like it? I’ve had a look, and I don’t think Deliveroo cover that particular lake (so sad). SO I am going to take a few freeze dried meals that I can add hot water too. I used these on the Autumn 100 and they were ace - you can run and eat at the same time which is my favourite thing to do. Also PUDDING.
I’m also going to be taking pulsin bars, nakd bars, shot blocks, SiS gels and hydration tabs. And salted peanuts. I think salted peanuts are the ultimate snackeroo for ultrarunners. They always make me feel glorious. My secret weapon is doing to be little sticks of instant coffee. I really love my coffee and I’m not sure if the Mongolians will be on the same page. Plus I can use it for bartering, like I am in prison. “How many pony hugs will you swap for this stick of Nescafe?” I wonder what fermented horse milk tastes like in coffee? We’ll soon find out!
So kit is more or less sorted. Just need to work out how to carry it all. We need to take a 4 season sleeping bag with us “just in case we don’t make it to camp and have to camp out on the ice for the night”. JUST IN CASE??? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT MAN??! I also love to over pack, so I’m going to have to be very strict on this.
Other things I am going to worry about - charging stuff. Like my hairdryer.
I am talking 5 power packs with me so I can keep my phone charged for all the pictures I need to take - and that leads me onto another thing - will my phone freeze? So many questions. Will my shellac chip off? What if I start my period? Will my hair freeze off? HOW WILL I SHOWER?! (Those who know me know that I actually give zero fucks about any of these things)
I’m spending the next few days getting all my other bits sorted - medicines, emergency kit, last Will and Testament, and going on a nice little training run over the South Downs on Friday with some of the Do-Badders. It’s really tempting to try and run the shit out of myself this week but I know next week will be hard and I have to start storing a bit of energy so I’m trying to curb that temptation and eat ALL the food. Onwards!
So this time in 2 weeks I will be on a plane to Mongolia. That’s not at all worrying. I decided that it’s time to attempt to get a grip on reality, and start collecting my kit. And you lucky people are going to get to see exactly what it is I plan on taking. Let’s start from the bottom up shall we?
(Side Note - I have literally NO IDEA what I am doing)
LET’S TALK ABOUT SOCKS
Socks. I love them. When they are good. I have been through ALL the socks in the world from the handy £1.50 for 20 sweatshop pair Karrimor’s to the £17 super soft Hilly TwinSkins. I honestly do believe that socks make a difference, and cheap ones are false economy for anything over a park race. The issue I have here is that it is going to be -40 on that ice, and I really don’t like having cold feet. Plus I don’t think the Chanel snow boots I have my eye on are going to be suitable for the terrain, so that’s out the window. I’ve taken advice from my mate Lee Stuart-Evans, who is older and smaller than me. Having lived back in the hobbit days, he has a lot of experience when it comes to running and feet and it being cold. It was him that introduced me to the Hilly TwinSkins that I love so much. Back in October when I was planning my 100 miler, he told me to get some waterproof socks as the weather was not looking good. I opted for the Sealskinz mid weight, mid length waterproof guys. They were VERY expensive and I didn’t need to use them, so I trialled them at Bovington Marathon in December. You have to run through fucking rivers there. They were super warm and waterproof to a point - only waders would have saved me on that race, BUT they were super comfy. I don’t think water will be the issue in Mongolia unless a hole opens and I fall in, it’s more about heat. These are warm and cosy without making sweat an issue. plus with other socks under them I can wear them every day.
As a back up I am using Ellis Brigham snowboarding socks - which do the same thing, minus the waterpoofing. My plan is Hilly mono skins, with Sealskinz on top and snowboarding socks on top of that. Surely my feet can’t get cold with those bad boys on? SURELY????
But Allie, I hear you cry, won’t that mean your shoes are too tight? Well no…. because I have a cunning plan……
SHOES - COULDN’T THINK OF A WITTY PUN SO JUST “SHOES”.
I’ve been through many, many shoes. Once upon a time, I was Nike Lunarglide only person and then I discovered proper running and realised they were crippling me. Then I was an Asics trail person but they fell apart halfway through a multi day ultra and I had to secure them with K tape. I use Inov8 trail, road and mudclaws for the shorter distances, but for ultras there is only one shoe.
By far and away the best and ugliest shoes I have bought are the Altra Lone Peak 3’s. Jesus fucking christ, are they horrible to look at. They look like a pair of lunchboxes. See below.
BUT they are awesome on long distances. I wore this model for the Autumn 100 back in October, and didn’t have the take them off or change socks once. Actually that’s a lie - I had a fake blister at mile 90, which I made Lee look after, but it didn’t amount to anything at all. I think it was me hallucinating and wanting to sit down more than anything else. They have a VERY wide toe box and are super soft and comfy, even if I do feel like Ginger Spice in them. Zero drop, and they although not technically waterproof, they get rid of excess water quickly and dry WELL fast. I ordered this spanking new pair in a size 7.5 (UK) to take care of the excess sock and swelling feet issue. My normal ones are 7 (to allow for swelling on 100 milers) and I take a 6-6.5 in most other shoes, but I think these are going to be OK. I’ll take my old pair too, just in case. On the bottom I am using some very cheap Petzl spikes. I bought 2 pairs, but will be looking into one glorious expensive set. I’m worried about spikes falling out, and I have no idea what it is like to run on the ice - I’m not sure Somerset House will let me have a go on their rink beforehand.
So that’s feet done. I have also bought gaiters, but as we work our way up we will get to that. I bet you’re all sat on the the edge of your seats. The back edge.
Tomorrow I am going to talk about base layers. I know. It’s too much excitement.
The first things to note about Portsmouth Coastal Waterside Marathon is that it is in Portsmouth (bad) and it’s sponsored by TJ Waste. A bin company (bad).
It takes in some of the most beautiful and iconic sights in Portsmouth, including an incinerator, a mental hospital, a ‘beach’ made of mud, the A27, and an industrial estate. They really are up there with the worst views in the UK, and I felt honoured to be running through them. The route is primarily along the coast, with the water on one side (WATERSIDE) and the motorway on the other (apart from the bit through the industrial estate). It’s inspiring. It inspires you to never go to Portsmouth again.
This was my second marathon of the weekend. I had taken Bovington pretty easy the day before, as I knew this was a faster, flatter, less muddy course. That didn’t stop me waking up in a terrible mood, which was mainly down to my life choices, and of course, being in Portsmouth.
The race starts at the Pyramid centre and runs out to Hayling Island (not a real island) and then back, so you get to see all the beautiful things twice. What a treat. In my head, I was aiming for a 4.30 marathon time, but my buddies kept talking about sub 4 and that made me anxious (more anxious than I was about being in Portsmouth). I can quite happily trot out a sub 4 road marathon, but this was mixed terrain and I didn’t know the course (I knew it was shit but I didn’t know how shit). I had also been running for six and a half hours the day before. Couple that with my already foul mood, and I started off running 8.20 minute miles out of anger, rapidly slowing down to 9-9.30 when I realised I was knackered from the day before and that I was being an idiot. Time on your feet, Allie, time on your feet.
To be fair, the route wasn’t as bad as I had thought - nowhere NEAR as bad as Reading for example, but it certainly wasn’t the rural racing I’m used to. It was a really awesome day weather wise - cold and bright - same as yesterday - so I opted for the same gear - the only thing I changed was my shoes - I wore my Altra Lone Peaks as I knew that there was more trail than road. They are super comfy with the widest toe box on earth, and my feet were suffering from 2 pairs of thick, wet socks in Inov8′s the day before.
The route took us along the coast and through a stunning industrial estate towards Farlington Marshes. I had been promised rum and mulled wine at every aid station. This was not the case. Here is one of the aid stations.
I’m joking of course. (I’m not)
I wasn’t enjoying myself, and I was pretty much running alone, so I started to try and work out what was wrong. I think all the talk at the start about sub 4 had really got to me, so I tried to remember what I run for. Because I love it. Because it helps me to feel calm. I needed to forget numbers and try and settle into having a nice time. But I couldn’t. Because I was in Portsmouth. Doing the Incineratorside Skipathon.
I got to the half way point in about 1.52 - literally the most ridiculous turn around point ever. Aid Station on the left and a tiny thin barrier to run around with one person width between the barrier and the table. This meant people getting shitty because they were in Portsmouth, and because some runners had the cheek to stop and get water and snacks. At an aid station no less. Which in turn meant “Salomon Man” was going to have to spend and extra 20 seconds getting out of the turnaround and that meant it would ruin his race and he wouldn’t get a PB and it was ALL YOUR FAULT PORTSMOUTH. Passive aggressive shouts of “RUNNER COMING THROUGH” all the way. Dude, we’re all runners. Oh, apart from the Sunday cyclist that was cycling at 1mph in front of me for the next mile. FFS. Fuck off, Portsmouth.
I am currently working on fuelling strategies to work out what’s best for me - something I have not done before. I am a big fan of the SiS electrolytes but decided not to use them to see what effect it had as I’m not sure I will be able to use these in Mongolia - so I was on water, shot blocks, gels and Jaffa cakes - the food of champions. When I got to mile 17, I had some crisps and realised that I desperately needed salt. They were so delicious. S cap it was and everything got better. Apart from the view.
I was making OK time, and for a while I didn’t look at my watch. Sometimes I think it’s important to not look at it, to remember why you do what you do. There was no pressure, I’ve got my GFA, and this was the final race of the year. I attempted to enjoy it. But I was in Portsmouth. And it had started to rain. A lot.
It was in the last 5 miles I came into my own - this is quite common for me because of the longer distances I have started to do now (boasting). In the last 2 miles, I started talking to a guy who was doing the ultra. The first thing he said was that he hated me (I think he meant he hated Portsmouth). His reasoning was that I looked really fresh. This tends to happen to me a lot. It was his first ultra and his first race (he had never even done a marathon) and he was in bits. So I chatted away to him and annoyed him, (”I hate you but I need you” - story of my life) and dragged him through the last few miles then egged him on for a sprint finish. Good deed done for the day. Got a hug. Everyone wins.
I didn’t win. I came in at 4.14 which is totally fine, and well under my predicted 4.30. Medal was shit. Race was shit. BUT I did it and now I don’t have to do it again. I also didn’t see a skip the whole way round. Marketing fail.
So now I find myself raceless until next year. The temptation is to try and find something in Devon for New Year. All recommendations welcome. Just nothing in Portsmouth.
A skip company proudly supporting sport in Portsmouth? SURE.
I don’t particularly like training for mega ultras alone, so I tend to enter a million races thoughout the year and use them as training runs - Bovington was no exception. I fucking LOVE White Star Running, the race organisers. They just get it right every single time. Brilliant races in rural locations with amazing support teams and atmosphere plus they are really affordable and the medals are ridiculous. I’ve run a lot of White Star Events and this was my sixth this year - meaning I finally got my WSR Black belt. I missed out on Bovington last year, so was super excited about it, even more excited as it was one of my fellow Do-Badders first marathon, and I was hell bent on getting her round in one piece.
It was a beautiful day for it too. Temperatures of around 2-5 degrees and a clear sky - perfect running conditions, as long as you were wearing the right kit. I opted for a base compression layer of 2XU tights and long sleeve top, a nike dry fit hoodie and of course my BBR vest. As the race was around a functioning army training ground, where they basically drive tanks for fun, there was only one footwear option for me and that was my Inov8 mudclaws - I’d worn them for the Snowdon Trail Marathon earlier in the year, and the grip meant I could run through peat bogs like a fell pony, with no risk of slipping. There was also water involved - a lot of it - 5 “river” crossings on the out and back. The water was never deeper than mid calf, but the crossing were at the start and finish so I decided to trial my Sealskinz waterproof mid socks over the top of Hilly twin skins - best ultra socks ever. SO SOFT. Sealskins mids are NOT waterproof if you’re running through 5 rivers. I can imagine they cope well with puddles, but this was something else.
The race started at 8.30, with race director Andy Palmer going us the briefing standing on top of a tank. As you do. I added some special decorations to it.
We had a pretty strong squad from BBR running this one, Pete, Si, David and Susi .(far right of this pic) As I said, it was Susi’s first marathon - what a marathon to choose.
I had decided before the race that I wanted to run with Susi for as long as possible. I knew that she was nervous, and this race isn’t one to be attempted without training and a massive sense of humour. As with all WSR events, it’s a marathon-ish. Which basically means it is probably nearer the 28 mile mark than the 26.2 mile mark. More miles for your money, right? In the end, I think it was a bit over 27 miles but I wouldn’t know because my fucking Garmin battery decided to die at 21. My phone died at mile 4 which is what I don’t have loads of en route photos. It helps to switch the power ON when you’re charging it. I’m such a professional.
The route takes you through the army training ground at Bovington, which is quite frankly awesome. It’s hilly trail, very, very wet, very, very muddy and littered with old Tanks to climb on (told you I was a pro). It’s also stunningly beautiful. Just don’t pick anything up off the floor or go off piste to have a piste - there are unexploded shells and all sorts of surprises in those woods, which made the whole thing way more interesting.
The first 10 miles were brilliant and Susi was running strong. Even though I am happiest at ultra pace, I find it very hard to run very slow, and running slow we were. But this was a personal exercise for me in patience and being supportive. The amount of times I have started with someone and then got bored and run off…..that was NOT going to happen today. I didn’t care how long it took, I wanted Susi to finish in one piece, happy and with amazing memories. I also wanted her to sign up for another event, and a bad experience would have thwarted that. Lastly, I am training for Mongolia, so time on my feet is important. I think a lot of people thing training is about distance, but as far as I am concerned its about spending time on your feet. If you can run/walk a decent slog for 7 hours, you can get ultra ready. I also had Portsmouth Coastal Skipathon Marathon the next day, and so didn’t want to do anything that would scupper that. Well I did, because Portsmouth is terrible, but that’s for another blog.
After the first 10 miles and 5 rivers, things started to slow down and it got VERY muddy, We were running through the areas the Tanks drive and in some places it was mid calf deep mud. An attempt at aggressive cornering through what I thought was a puddle, ended up with me being almost knee deep in mud and stuck. Classic AB move. And there were hills. Lots of hills. Some steep, some bastard long slow sandy ones. But hills are for eating and walking, and when you snack as much as I do, they’re quite welcome.
The scenery was beautiful - heath land littered with old tanks in the bushes, huge trees and muddy trails. I felt extremely lucky to be allowed to run across land that is owned by the MOD - it’s a place that the public just cannot access and that is awesome. The Lovestation (that’s the WSR aid station) was stocked brilliantly and as always the volunteers were there for a kiss and a hug and to give us a gin/vodka/mulled cider - all very welcome on the way back. Plus, at my request they had gherkins. Gherkins are the food of ultra running kings. By the amount left on the way back, I was obviously the only person that thought that. THANKS ANDY! (Don’t chop them up so small next time)
Note mud up to knees post running through a puddle that wasn’t a puddle.
Mile 18-27 was hard. I felt really good, and the temptation to trot off and smash out the last few miles was REALLY strong. But no, I wasn’t doing this one for me, I wanted to support Susi. There was a lot more walking going on at this point, so I suggested a run for 5 mins, walk for one rule - that plan was quickly fucked by the hills. So I just tried to apply a little pressure every now and again to get Susi trotting along at a slow pace without her punching me in the face. She was glorious. She didn’t whinge or whine or complain, and I know I can be pretty fucking annoying when I am barking at people to run.
The last few miles crept by slowly and we trotted in in 6.35 - a very long time for anyone to be on their feet in those conditions. Susi had done it, her first marathon - she had technically done her first Ultra TBF. She got her PB and I had got my personal worst for marathon time. #nailedit
This race was all sorts of awesome - I completely loved every single second of it. Everything from the organisation to the support from all the marshals and volunteers, the environment, that tanks, all of it was amazing. The route was well marked and marshalled, the Lovestation was brilliantly festive and the atmosphere was just the best. The medal’s not too bad either.
If there is only one race you do next year, make it a White Star Running race. I can’t WAIT for Larmer in Mrach. And Susi - this ones for you - congratulations!
So yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting my Mongol 100 team mates for the first time to discuss what is going to be possibly the greatest adventure of all time.
The team are Jim and Rob from Rat Race Adventures, Lee and Graham who I know through doing a bit off running and that, Pete who is going to be our man doing the filming, Darren who is a pretty nifty ultra runner and David Scott - our man in the know about all things Mongolia and a total legend. David will be making sure we don’t die/fall in a hole/get eaten by wolves/offend the locals - all things that now seem like quite likely to happen. There’s one more member of the team - Merlin - someone I have yet to meet but that I can add to the collection of Merlins I know (making it a total of 3 - how has that happened?!)
We sat down around the rather nifty map (above) with some delicious sports drinks and David took us through what to expect on the lake. He had been out on the lake the previous week - it was -20 degrees and the waves were already freezing. By the time we get there in late January the temperature will be around -40 and the ice should be around a metre thick and covered with snow at the north end. The south end will be like a massive ice rink.
The tiny island in the middle will be where our Gers sit for the first night - the tents that we stay in at night. The lake is 85 miles long and about 20 miles across and we will be attempting to traverse it from south to north and the back down to the island making it around about 100 miles. The Gers are fully packed with stoves and beds - if anything they get too hot apparently - I find this quite hard to believe.
We will be on the ice for around 3 days - with a day to acclimatise at the start. We all had loads of questions which David answered so confidently that I really started to believe this might be a bit of a holiday. It won’t be though. There’s the running bit to consider and the not getting frostbite. Or being eaten. Here are some of the things we asked and the answers we got.
What will we eat? Whatever they catch for us. This could include Wolves, Reindeer or Elks which we will barbecue every night - vegetarianism is not an option but when it’s that fresh you can’t argue. We will also have a hot breakfast in the morning and snack thoughout the day as an when. David will provide water for us on the ice in flasks so it doesn’t freeze. I have also heard Vodka doesn’t freeze so you know…..
What do we wear? The biggest question, that I think I could bang on about forever. David recommended a Wolf Pelt coat which can protect you up to -60. It basically make you look like and extra from Game Of Thrones so I am 100% in. Definitely buying one as soon as I get there. The rest of the gear I will be sourcing in the next few weeks - more about that on the gear posts laster this month. I am planning the wear my Altra Lone peaks with spikes on the bottom and 20 pairs of socks. You have to be fully covered head to toe as frostbite can set in within minutes if anything is exposed. I think gloves will be a sticking point mainly due to my love of snacks and not being able to get to them with mittens on.
Where will we sleep? We will sleep in mega cosy Gers that will be dismantled and taken on horse and sled to the next set up point. Proper beds and a heater. Nice.
How far will we be running every day? We have about 9 hours of light so I am planning on getting a bit of a pace on if possible. There will be a fast team and a slower team - we should have eyes on us at all time. The ice is thick enough to take cars, but it creaks and bangs and can be a little terrfiying. There is also a tectonic plate running through the middle of the lake that we need to be aware of. If that moves then we have a problem. We will having locals checking the thickness of the ice a day or so before to make sure its all safe. We will as safe as it can be.
What sort of wildlife will we see? Brown bears, Wolves, Elks, Reindeer and possibly Lynx’s. Thats possibly the coolest thing I have ever typed. The local do keep guns but attacks are unlikely as the animals tend to keep away from the lake - theres nothing there for them to eat. Apart from us.
What sort of customs do we need to observe? This is where it gets really interesting. Mongolian etiquette is a minefield it seems - we have David to guide us so it should be fine but still, a little overview for you…. Always say hello (“sain bainuul”) when you arrive. But DON’T use platitude likes “It’s SO nice to meet you” you will be met with a stony glare. Don’t say hello more than once to the same person. Always receive objects with your right hand. Keep your palm facing up when holding cups and accepting things. Always accept gifts. Always take a bite or a nibble of offered food, even if you’re not hungry. The national drink of Mongolia is Airag - a fermented horses milk - noms - if offered this, and we WILL be offered it a lot, you must take a sip or place it to your lips before handing it back to the pourer. If it’s not Airag it will probably be Vodka. I know what I am hoping for. Always keep your sleeves rolled down - it is considered impolite to show your wrists to someone. Always sleep with your feet pointing toward the door to the room. Never point at anyone with your index finger. Never lean on a support column in a Ger or go through the middle of the poles - it is disrespectful to your hosts. Men pass to the left in a Ger and ladies to the right. I don’t know my left from my right. Never put water on, step on or put rubbish in a fire. Fire is sacred. And now the most important one - never touch other people’s hats. Touch their hat and you will probably end up in a fight.
I have a feeling I might get into trouble here……..
So that’s a bit of a feel for what it might be like.
Now the training. I have been pretty well trained all year - I’ve backed off a little since the Autumn 100 but have 2 marathons this weekend that I am sure will be handy - the first one being Bovington on Saturday - running round a freezing, wet, muddy tank range - and the Portsmouth on Sunday which will be a more mental challenge because it’s in fucking Portsmouth. Always good to get a bit of multi day action under your belt! Then it’s back to the shorter long runs (5-8 miles) over christmas and new year and really starting to up fitness in January - I’ll be going back to British Military Fitness at least once a week and doing 4-5 runs a week. To be honest, I am exhausted from this year - I’ve done over 1,500 miles and I need a break. After the last 2 marathons of the year this weekend I’m going to do a bit of a rest
Stay tuned for a bit of marathon blogging over the weekend! For now here are some pictures that David took last week in Mongolia - I am truly mega excited! Look at my T shirt with my Mongolian name on!
HELLO I’m Allie. I like running. A lot. In January I am going to be taking on my biggest challenge yet. In a world first, I am travelling to Mongolia to attempt to be the first female to cross the 100 mile Lake Khovsgol in Mongolia on foot. This epic journey which has never been done before and will see a small team of seven run across the largest body of freshwater in the world, in temperatures below -40. I will be the only female on the team. This trip has been conceived by Rat Race Adventures and will act as a ‘test’. If we complete it successfully it will be marketed to the public as a race from 2019.
The journey is staged over three days, with the team averaging 33 miles a day and sleeping on the ice at night . At the end of this adventure, we will celebrate the achievement at the traditional Burns Night supper in Ulan Bator as VIP guests of the Mongolian government. That’s IF we finish…..
ABOUT ME I started running 6 years ago to try and get a hold on my depression. It started with London Marathon in 2012 and since then has ‘escalated’ somewhat. In 2017 I completed 26 marathons and ultra marathons, taking my total to 40 overall. This year I got my first podium places, coming first lady at The Ox 50 in 9 hours and 30 mins, and taking the same title later in the year at the 44 mile Cotswolds Ultra. I completed my first 100 mile race in 23 hours and 25 minutes, at the Autumn 100 - one of only a handful of women to finish in sub 24 hours. 2018 sees me up my challenges to include, amongst others, my second attempt at the 82 mile Jurassic Coast Challenge, another two 100 mile races in the UK and the Thames Path Ultra - covering 184 miles in 4 days. My chosen charity for next year’s fundraising will be Mind Hackney - a mental health service very close to my heart that provides help and support to people in the are that I live in.
One of my aims is to show that you can overcome mental health issues and lead a fulfilled and glorious life through sport, adventure and living. Running helps me do that. I am passionate about empowering women through sport and getting more females into these endurance events, which are currently very male orientated. I want to show that women can succeed when faced with these extreme conditions. If my experience can help just one person get up and start the journey, then my job is done. I
This challenge is not for the faint hearted. It’s dangerous and very, very cold. The team comprises of 6 other ultra runners (all male) and our guide David. The idea to cross the lake is “by any means” (snow bike, skis or running). I will be running it - Ski’s are for cheats!
I will be updating my training plans, test races and information about the gear I decide to use and of course the race on this blog to make sure you subscribe!