Chasing the Personal Best

The “Personal Best”, the constant quest to obtain a PB can be rather stressful, frustrating and challenging.

As many of my previous posts have detailed, I hold my hands up and say I am constantly hoping for a personal best on a daily basis, whether it is during training or during a race itself. The ability to improve on your previous performance is not only rewarding but also extremely motivating, for anyone – not just runners.

But, as many like minded runners would relate to, as soon as I hit a new PB I am constantly attempting to compete with myself and, as such, often find myself frustrated with my ability to push myself further. When in fact, I should be looking at my progress and how far I have come.

Six years ago today, I took part in my first ever race. Taking part in the Willow 10K was rather daunting and the furthest I have ever run. I completed the undulating course in 64 minutes and whilst I was ecstatic with the result I declared I would never run a race again.

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Though, the next year I was back again – in attempt to beat my previous years time. However, on my return I immediately felt the pressure to improve on the year before and, subsequently failed.

Again I vowed to never run again. But went on to join a local boot camp several months later which opened up a whole new world and level fitness, and the addiction to running races continued to the point that I have now lost count of the number of 10K races I have taken part in, along with half marathons and the London Marathon to boot. So much for never running again.

Despite now being a “seasoned runner,” someone who is extremely capable of running for miles without issue – I am constantly doubting my ability, chasing the PB and getting frustrated or wanting to give up when I don’t get it.

But what we all fail to understand is that the “Personal Best” we all crave for every time we don the running shoes doesn’t always have to be about time. The personal best can also be a distance you set yourself, a goal you have overcome whilst running or even just how you feel during a run or race.

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My local parkrun is a prime example of this. It is one run that stresses me out each week. The pressure to improve, to do my best often causes a panic within and makes the run one I tend to not enjoy. When I first started taking part, week after week I would get a PB until I found myself no longer improving. I took a long break, whilst training for the Isle of Wight challenge and returned in June to again see a succession of PB’s. But for the last six weeks there has been no PB, and I find myself frustrated before I start every Saturday.

The course itself is not an easy one. Two and a half loops of the local town park, which includes a grassy up hill section – that I have never been able to conquer until a few weeks ago. On the second loop I was determined that no matter how slow my pace was, I was going to get to the top without stopping. And I did. I did not have a PB time wise that Saturday morning. But, I was ecstatic – my personal best for that day was conquering that nasty hill.

And some further PB’s followed after, with a sub 30 minute 5K personal best during a session with Harlow Running Club. It was flat and it was on a track – but nonetheless – it was still a personal best.

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So we need to take the achievements where we can. It doesn’t matter what your minute/ mile pacing is. It matters that you are moving, it matters that you understand that a personal best can be found in other places too.

We all put far too much pressure on time forgetting that in doing so you can bring stress and pressure to the body. Instead we should relax, enjoy the activities we are doing and take the PB’s, in what ever form they come.

Adidas City Runs: Clapham

Sunday 16th September saw my return to Adidas City Runs, with the Clapham 10K route. After my pleasant run with them a year previously with the Shoreditch 10K I was looking forward to seeing what South London had to offer.

As with most race days, it started with a very early morning to ensure that I arrived in plenty of time to get myself sorted before the start: multiple toilet breaks, adjustment of kit and filling up my running bladder for the miles ahead.

There was not much time to hang around, as within 30 minutes of my arrival the first waves were being called to the start pens. My wave (wave C) was soon heading in the same direction. Very little time passed before the runners were off!

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Starting at Larkhall Park the route saw participants head north towards Vauxhall before turning back towards Clapham, along Wandsworth Road, skirting the east of Clapham Common before winding round the tree lined streets of Clapham Old town and North Clapham towards the finish line back at Larkhall Park.

The race started off well. Despite the recent balmy temperatures the morning was over cast, cool and saw a welcome gentle breeze – making running conditions seem perfect.

From the first to the third kilometre I found myself comfortable, setting a good pace (albeit, slightly faster than previous races due to my training with Harlow Running Club) and generally feeling rather relaxed after a recent break away in the sunshine.

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However, perhaps due to my lack of training in the lead up owed to my holiday or my faster than normal pace, or perhaps a mixture of both, I started to find myself tiring rather quickly between the third and fourth kilometre. Add in a couple of unexpected hills around the “flat route,” slowing down my pace further, I found my spirit wavering slightly – stopping to walk the hills that I would not have caused issues previously. I also started to spend more time looking at my watch, trying to work out if a PB was on the cards. During the first and third kilometres this was looking likely. After four kilometres I started to give up on the PB yet again, deterred by my post holiday fitness level, and to simply use this race as a way to return back to training after a very inactive break away.

The route itself was not without challenges, as mentioned above there were a number of hills thrown into the mix that were completely un-expected, the twists and turns around the residential streets became tiring and to top it off, as with the Shoreditch 10K, residents ignored the signs about road closures and decided they were well within their rights to drive down the closed roads. I saw at least three drivers, with very little regard for the runners around them screaming at the marshalls, obviously putting both at danger with their stupidity to pay attention to the signs around them.

And the water stations? Where were they? There was nothing available until after the 6KM mark. Many runners were overheard asking the marshalls “where is the water station?” And on what transpired to be a rather muggy day once we got well under way, this was an error of judgement on the organisers part. Luckily, I always run with water so it did not cause an issue for me. But there were many participants clearly struggling with the lack of hydration.

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That did not put runners off enjoying the course, however. Many participants around me were clearly enjoying themselves (some more than others) and there were many smiling faces as we approached the final turns to the finish line.

Despite my lack enthusiasm throughout the route, I was undeterred as we came towards that final stretch. Any energy I had was used for a sprint finish, allowing me to come under my British 10K time from July (just).

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Was I bothered about failing to get a PB and a sub 60 minute time yet again? Not really. I had enjoyed my much needed time off, coming back feeling refreshed and ache free. I always say “next time.” And I will get there one day. With the ability I have gained training with Harlow Running club, teamed with regular Spinning classes – I have no doubt that I will eventually reach the goals I set for myself.

In the meantime, it’s time to head off to running club……….

Joining Harlow Running Club

For many years I have spent the majority of my running miles training alone, with the occasional running partner thrown in. And whilst it is always great to have a running partner, I often found pressured to run faster than I was capable – at the other person’s ability. Which can be rather stressful.

So when I trained for the London Marathon in 2017 I was not bothered about running alone. I could set my own pace and train as I wanted to.

It’s funny how that can change when you pick a new challenge. When I signed up for the Isle of Wight I could not even imagine getting through the long hours walking around the coastal path alone. So with others joining me on the challenge itself, I trained with them. And I was so grateful to have that company to get me through.

Once the event was over, however, I had to find a way to get back into training alone. The challenge was done, it was time to get back in to a normal routine. But I found it incredibly hard to do so – unless it was a group spinning class – it was difficult to get back into a schedule and motivate myself.

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So I started to toy with the idea of joining the local running club. Something I had always shied away from with the misconception that it would be to cliquey, that it is full elite runners and that I would embarrass myself with my mediocre “running.”

In the attempt to re-claim my love for running whilst the weather was on my side, I threw caution to the wind and contacted the club organisers who swiftly invited me along for a “taster” session.

I was duly impressed. On arrival I found that my idea of what the club would be was pure fabrication on my part. The group were not cliquey in the slightest – in fact several members came up to me straight away as I was clearly a “newbie.” Neither was the club full of elite runners. And I was not mediocre at all – I just was not elite.

In just a month I am starting to understand the benefits of joining a running club such as this one.

  1. I am in the right in environment. By surrounding myself with like minded people who enjoy running and show such enthusiasm will help me in the long term. Within the group you will find so much support – many members encouraging and motivating you.
  2. Running clubs encourage a range of training – something that you will be less likely to do alone. Harlow Running Club have a great mix of training: from track sessions, hills, long distance and speed. I find that if I am running alone it is easy to get into a rut of running the same routes and therefore becoming rather bored. In the month I have been running with a club I have seen a variety of routes, lots of hills and some speed work too. With them I have discovered some lovely country routes I would have never have known before.
  3. It’s a community. As with my boot camp days, I have quickly developed relationships with many of the club members who have encouraged me to test out different parkruns, races and generally inviting me along for a Sunday run. These people will no doubt be imperative to my motivation over the Winter months.
  4. The competitive streak will surface. I never thought of myself as competitive, but have often been told otherwise. In my month since joining I have noted that this competitive edge has been surfacing more often than not. Whether it be catching up with one person in front or over taking another runner in a sprint finish – there is definitely a competitive edge within me.
  5. Being a member of a running club will give you that psychological ability to call yourself a “runner.” I have always battled with the idea of calling myself a runner as my running at times feels more like a jog than a run – especially if I compare myself to those at the elite end of the spectrum. But now that I am an affiliated member of a running club and registered with England Athletics it feels like I can class myself completely as a runner.

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Within a month of joining the club I am already finding improvements with my running technique and abilities. This week saw me reach a PB for my 5K, I have seen my average min/miles drop, my fastest min/miles (for short bursts) improve, a greater ability to conquer hills and to top it all off I have met some wonderful people who encourage and support me every step of the way. And this is just within the first month.

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Joining Harlow Running Club was the best decision I have made for my training in such a long time. I am looking forward to seeing what it will bring over the next few months.

 

Vitality London 10,000

Just a short week ago I participated in Vitality London 10,000 for the first time. The annual event has been running since 2008 and it was my first chance to take part.

Previous years have seen me out of the country over the bank holiday weekend (not that I am complaining), so this year I decided to organise my holiday around the race instead.

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And what a year to be joining thousands of runners through the capital.

The day started warm, muggy and with warnings from the organisers to take extra care in the heat, I knew from the get go I was not going to push for a PB. I had not run much of late, training for the Isle Of Wight Challenge meant that I had very little time to commit to running. So, my plan was to take in the event, enjoy the course and simply complete.

What a race it was. With thousands of runners ready in pens on the Mall between St James Park and Green Park, the atmosphere was filled with excitement and nerves. Not only were there many regular runners taking part, but also Sir Mo Farah.

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Due to the sheer volume of participants it took some time to reach the start line. The pens were evenly distributed to ensure safety on course. Though once there the legend that is Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill was sending runners on their merry way – high fiving them as they passed through, myself included.

The route saw us run from the Mall down the Strand, into the city following many of the same streets as those I pounded during the London Winter Run and London Landmarks Half Marathon.

Though I have run these streets of London on numerous occasions, each race never feels the same. The routes seem so much easier in the Winter Months, when the air is cooler and kinder for runners. On Bank Holiday Monday the temperature was so very different, with the city streets trapping any kind of breeze, very little air and providing the hot and muggy conditions we were promised.

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I took it easy. Stopping a lot more than I normally would; partly due to the heat and partly due to the fact that I had not completed that many training miles in the lead up to the event.

Despite the heat, the route was thoroughly enjoyable. Yet again the atmosphere on the streets of London was infectious. Spectators came out in their thousands, some cheering on loved ones and some just cheering on strangers. Each and every one of them encouraging those who were participating – something I always miss when running local races, where there is a lack of support throughout the routes.

It was not my best time for a 10K and it was not my worst either. What it was was a well organised, enjoyable event which saw runners take on the streets of London whilst passing iconic sights of our great city.

And the best part for me was running that final 800 metres, the same 800 metres I ran during the London Marathon, along Birdcage Walk and where my Uncle was cheering me on just over a year ago.

Starting and finishing where my London Marathon journey ended all that time ago was rather sensational. There is nothing like finishing a race outside Buckingham Palace and if I never have the opportunity to run the London Marathon again, at least I will be able to finish a race in the same spot.

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The Vitality London 10,000 has quickly become one of my favourite 10K races. The organisation, the start and finish on the Mall, the atmosphere and running the iconic streets of London is all second to none.

I have no doubt that it will quickly become a regular in my racing calendar.

 

 

 

Letting go of a bad race.

When you have trained for months on end, clocking up hundreds of miles to prepare for race day and ironed out numerous issues with kit en route – the last thing you want is for the race to not go as planned. There is no doubt in your mind, especially if you have trained for the event, that the number one goal is finishing.

That was my goal for the Isle of Wight challenge. Yes, it would have been nice to achieve a great time too. But the number one aim was to finish, to fight my way through the whole 106km course.

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I never imagined a scenario where it would not happen. I had trained, I had great company to keep me going, I was feeling great.

But as detailed in my Isle of Wight challenge write up, it went terribly wrong through no fault of my own. An unseasonal heat wave on the island saw us trek in 26 degree heat, that felt like 30 degrees plus! All day in the sun, with no shade and no breeze saw me suffer more than I ever have done before.

The winter months prepared me for the long distance, for all kinds of weather. But for a heat wave – there was no way we could have prepared for that in our unpredictable winter months.

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To say that I have given myself a hard time since would be an understatement. It has been constant – believing that I had failed, that I had not prepared enough and complete devastation.

I’m sure many of us have experienced this. The bad race. The one that you had prepared for but the one where your body just would not co-operate.

It has taken weeks and weeks to let it go. And despite many people telling me achieving just half of the distance is simply amazing – you just don’t quite believe it. Your worst critic is yourself and I have certainly been that

So how do you get over that bad race?

  1. Wallow! Allow yourself to have time to mope, cry and vent about your performance. After all – there has been a serious investment into training. So if it does go wrong disappointment is natural. You should be allowed have a little vent. I’m sure many have done so at some point or another.
  2. Look at the positive aspects. Think about what you have achieved and the lead up to getting there. Despite crying from 40-53km I managed to find the strength to get to the half way point. Many times during this distance all I wanted to do is quit – but I didn’t. And I had to think about all the training miles. The Sunday mornings hiking through Epping Forest and the Hertfordshire countryside, with my team mates, and developing a stronger faster stride in the process.
  3. Analyse your performance. Once the emotions have subsided you will be able to think about what went wrong on a rational level. As weeks have passed I know the main factor that was detrimental to my performance was the heat – something I have no control over. What I did have control over was my intake of fuel. I drank litres and litres of water, so my fluid was not a problem. However, due to the heat the thought of food was making me nauseous. So I did not take on much fuel and became weak as a result. Next time round I need to tweak this to ensure I have enough energy to aid performance.
  4. Set new goals. After allowing myself some time off to relax and reflect I am now in the right head space to look at my goals, adjust them and prepare for them. The week after the Isle of Wight I had a 10 mile race scheduled, but knew I was not in the right mind to take part – so I didn’t. Instead I focused beyond that, to Nuclear Races on the 19th May, and decided that would be the event where I would get my focus back. Bar some cuts, bruises and an extremely achy body the next day, it did the trick. And this weekend (now my body is healed from Nuclear), I am ready to get back into a training schedule.
  5. Manage your expectations. It is all well and good training for months and months, but if something happens that is beyond your control: if there is a heat wave, if you pick up a cold; you have to be realistic – on those days you will not be at your best. You will most likely not be looking at a PB. So manage that, prepare for that and enjoy the race anyway. See it as another training opportunity.

Despite many weeks passing, going through a long process of analysis and generally moping about, I now know what I achieved was more than the average person could achieve.

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Yes, I am still disappointed. But the challenge was extreme, the conditions were on the same level and at the end of the day I made the right decision for how I was feeling on the day.

So if you are feeling that post race disappointment. Shake it off, re-focus your energy on the next challenge and get moving again.

The Isle Of Wight Challenge

When I signed up for the Isle of Wight Challenge with Ultra Challenges I never imagined anything but reaching the finish line.

From the minute I committed to the challenge, the training began. Pre Christmas saw me racking up the mileage alone, then as the New Year rolled in I started training with my team mates and old boot camp friends.

Every weekend would see us increasingly mileage, meeting in carparks in an un-godly hour of Sunday morning and building up our endurance for the challenge ahead. Training in wet, windy and, on numerous occasions, bitterly cold, snowy conditions.

We racked up hundreds of miles over the months in the lead up to the Isle of Wight. I felt that my fitness had taken a turn for the better. I was training with many others who were faster and taller than me – so my walking speed and endurance had improved. I have overcome many issues with footwear, socks and blisters. And although I was extremely nervous about the day itself – I was more prepared than I have ever been for any challenge.

I never imagined I would feel how I felt on race day.

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The morning saw us wake to a beautiful sunny morning. Not a cloud in the sky. And at 7am there was already no need for any more layers other than a t-shirt. We knew it was going to be warm, so we had to ensure we take precautions.

The excitement and nerves were evident at the start line. As a group in one of the last waves, we saw many participants head out before us. I felt good, I felt strong and I felt capable.

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Soon enough we were on our way from Chale, with stunning views along the south coast of the Island in front of us. Everyone in our group was in high spirits, chatting away and enjoying the scenery whilst tackling the task at hand.

We breezed our way through to the first rest stop, quickly taking in supplies and using the facilities, before continuing our way along the coastal path.

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The views along the route were simply to die for. With the sea sparkling below us and the sun shining so brightly you would have thought we were somewhere in the Mediterranean rather than a little island off the south coast of England.

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As the heat of the day continued to climb, so did our ascent. The terrain provided a number of up hill climbs towards the west coast of the island and the Needles. One particular climb was somewhat of a beast after Fresh Water Bay, just as you thought you were at the top you see the hill goes on and on – providing you fantastic views once at the top.

It was just after this climb that our second rest stop approached. Time to take a seat, change into a fresh pair of socks and refuel.

Here I discovered a couple of blisters on my baby toes that needed dressing before doing so. They were quickly seen to and with a change of footwear too – we were quickly on our way.

Needles to West Cowes was the second leg of the route. Still in high spirits we trundled on along the waterfront – extremely envious of those paddling, sitting down to an afternoon drink or just having an ice cream by the sea. With the heat now soaring – I would have given anything to kick off my shoes and go for a paddle myself.

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The previous day we were pre warned about a particularly bad stretch of path between 30-50km. We were advised that it was boggy, wet and we had to take extra caution. With the heat of the day I believed that this would not be the case when we reached the 30km mark. I was wrong. You knew when you reached it, there were queues of participants waiting to tackle the area.

Boggy does not cover it. It was the most soul destroying part of the route. Not only did you have to try and tackle the path as quickly as possible, but you also had to try to remain upright without loosing a shoe. It was relentless, it felt like it went on for miles and with the amount of people taking part it took forever. It slowed us down, draining precious energy and also led to aches we did not account for. No where in our training did we encounter a terrain as this – and we had trained over farmers fields in the winter.

Soon enough we were back on road and woodland paths, with another rest stop approaching.

I could no longer feel the ache of the blisters on my baby toes, but instead my ankles just throbbed. The boggy terrain and consequential uneven footing had taken its toll. Refuelling again (at this point I had got through 6 litres of fluid), taking some painkillers and rubbing in some Voltarol, and then it was time to head off. Next stop 52km break point, dinner and the switch to the night gear ready for the dark hours.

A shift happened between the two rest stops. The team broke away slightly, with a couple walking faster ahead and the majority slowing down slightly. The heat of the day was still intense, I was taking on more and more fluids – with little effect. I felt severely dehydrated, despite high volumes of water, I suddenly felt incredibly weak and nauseous.

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This section of the route saw us having to navigate numerous styes as we trekked through farm lands, and I found myself having less and less energy to lift my legs to get over.

Out of no where, around the 40km mark I started to cry. I had no idea why, but it kept coming. With the crying, came panic. I had not yet reached the half way point, we were a good few hours away from that, and I had no energy. I needed to eat, to get that much needed fuel to carry on, but I felt sick at the thought. I was in utter despair, going through a cycle of balling my eyes out, panicking and swearing profusely.

Then came another boggy section, with styes too. Shortly followed by a number of ambulances, attending to other participants suffering from heat exhaustion and even a rumoured broken leg. It seems the days heat and course had started to take its toll – we passed many others who were treating blisters on the curb, being rescued by loved ones and some just looking defeated. Those who were still walking in groups barely uttered a word to one another.

I don’t understand how I managed to find the energy; but spotting one of my team mates slightly ahead I picked up the pace. I knew I needed to keep up to get through to the half way point.

I had made a very difficult and upsetting decision to end my journey at 52km.

There was no energy left within me. The heat of the day and the terrain had taken everything from me, and as the sun began to set on our approach to the half way rest stop – I felt my temperature beginning to drop to the point that I was shivering uncontrollably.

I knew I could not make it through the night hours in my current state.

On seeing my face, the tears and the distress, my team mates knew it was not something they could talk me out of. The island had completely broken me. I had nothing left to give.

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And after waving them all off into the night, promising to be waiting for them on the other side, I felt a sense of relief and disappointment. Relief, knowing that I did not have to attempt to keep up with everyone else when I was feeling so drained, but so utterly disappointed and frustrated with my body for failing me.

I had trained hard for this one, walking further in training that I actually did on the day. But on race day itself my body bucked against the conditions.

Making the decision to finish at the 52km mark was soul destroying. It was not what I trained for, it was not in the plan. I never enter a race to say at the end “let’s just do half.” That’s not who I am. The finish line is always my goal. But after feeling wretched for miles and miles, I was genuinely concerned I would be putting my health at risk continuing into the night hours. So I made that call.

On crossing the 106km finish line the following morning, my team mates assured me I had made the right decision for me. I had finished the half distance in 11 hours 44 minutes, the 106km distance saw them on their feet for 27 hours with very little rest.

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And now, 5 days later I am still questioning my decision. I keep trying to think back and remember if it really was that bad. Was I really feeling so awful that the only choice was to give up? Not only do I still feel that I failed, I feel that perhaps I don’t have the determination I thought I had and that I am now just a quitter.

When so many people managed to fight through to the end, why could I not push myself on?

The Isle of Wight challenge will be one of those that will haunt me.

A race where I will always think “what if”?

In the wake of the event will I ever be able to stop questioning the decision I made and my overall ability?

Will I ever be able to lay it to rest?

Final Countdown to the Isle of Wight Challenge.

This time next week I will be well into the epic challenge on the Isle of Wight, heading for the darkest hours as night falls and the walk continues into the small hours.

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Whilst I have trained as much as I possibly could in preparation, walking for hours at the weekend, spinning and running, nothing can possibly prepare me mentally for the challenge that is fast approaching.

A few weeks back I embarked upon the longest training walk yet, 36.7 miles with fellow team mates. Two thirds of the way through I hit that “wall” and willed it to be over – and I was no where near the mileage I need to cover next week.

I always thought that the London Marathon was the toughest challenge I would ever have to face, until I started to rack up the miles of the Isle of Wight Challenge, with Ultra Challenges.

There is very little I can now do at this stage to prepare. Like most races, you do have that sense of panic and feel that you should start cramming in more training. But anyone who has every partaken in a endurance race will know that the best thing for you to do in the lead up to any event is trust the training and pull back to ensure you are feeling your best for race day itself.

Easier said than done. With my final big walk, of 20 miles, taking place in the morning I am already trying to juggle my diary to see where I can fit in more long walks.

As with any lead up to a big challenge, I am also starting to doubt my ability. Trying to understand how I am going to find the energy to get through those additional 30 miles. Unlike most races I have taken part in of late, I have trained and complete the event with friends. I am hoping that I will draw strength and comfort in experiencing every mile together.

The unknown is the biggest fear, you never know how you are going to feel on race day, how your body is going to react when you reach your threshold and living in the country we do – you just don’t know what Mother Nature will throw at you.

So, it is safe to say I am terrified of what lies ahead – praying that the weather is good to us and I find the ability from within to keep going.

Failure is not an option.

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Training: 36.7 Miles

There comes a point when you are training for a major event when you will hit the highest possible level of endurance. It is at this point that you start to question your sanity, your ability and you simply wonder why the hell you have paid to enter an event that causes you so much physical and mental pain.

Saturday was that day for me.

The date for the longest training walk was booked into my diary months previously so I knew it would be coming. I had trained consistently for weeks and weeks, pushing myself at a faster pace during long walks and short walks too. Sunday mornings had regularly seen me awaiting training buddies at 7am in abandoned car parks whilst most were still in the land of nod.

So I was prepared, I should have been able to cope. However, it was on this day that my mind and body suddenly started to comprehend the enormity of the challenge at hand.

Beginning our journey at a social time of 9am we followed the River Stort path from Harlow Mill until it joined the River Lea at Rye House. With the sun shining, and feeling rather energetic we were making good time, so we continued to push at a strong pace.

Taking the River Lea path northwards we carried on through to 11 miles, stopping for a short refreshment break, before continuing along the river path to Hertford Town centre.

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To help us get through the hours of walking, we started to break the route down into sections, with the next part following cycle path 61 from Hertford all the way to Panshanger – where we hit the half way point – 18 miles.

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With the weather being warmer than it had been of late, I found myself drinking more water than normal, feeling rather dehydrated and rather nauseous shortly after the half way mark. I had no choice but to carry on, so I took more water on board and simply just put one foot in front of the other. Focusing on our next milestone.

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Miles 18-25 saw us having to retrace our steps. Back along route 61, back through Hertford town centre, following the river until we reached Ware town centre and the most welcomed refreshment stop – a Fish and Chip dinner (or simply just chips and a much needed Diet Coke for me).

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This would be our last major stop before our finish. Therefore it was the perfect opportunity to add layers to prepare for the daylight fading and to change into a fresh pair of socks. With the mixture of a proper rest stop and changing of kit came a renewed sense of energy. I felt ready to take on the final 11 miles back to where it all began.

We continued on, sometimes talking, sometimes in comfortable silence – each of us focused on our own thoughts, finding our own way to get through. However, my fresh feeling did not last much longer. My feet were throbbing, my poorly bunions causing shooting pains as they swelled against the walking shoes and fatigue generally started to set in. We had been on our feet for around 10 hours at this point, with very little rest. Daylight was fast diminishing and all we wanted to be finished.

Our final point of rest was at the point we marked as “the five mile bridge.” The bridge that we stated was the home stretch on the way out, many hours earlier.

Here the night torches came out in preparation, final layers were added and I gave my poorly feet a chance to get through the last few miles by changing into my trainers. And they thanked me for it. With darkness setting in, the comfort of my trainers and a great longing for a shower, pajamas and prosecco – I pushed myself to keep going to the end. Not focusing on the path in front, instead keeping my eyes on my training buddies feet in front, I made it through feeling rather emotional and delirious to the end.

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36.7 miles clocked up. 12 hours after we had set off, we made it back to our cars, exhausted and elated.

Whilst I am extremely proud of getting through the training on Saturday, I have not stopped thinking about those extra 30 miles that are going to be added on top in less than three weeks time.

I wonder if my feet are going to cope, how I am going to find the ability to push through, how I am going to get through the long night hours, how is this even possible and what the hell was I thinking in signing up for this in the first place.

Last year I thought the London Marathon was the hardest challenge I had ever faced, I thought I would never be faced with anything that would push me more than 26.2 miles had done.

I could not be more wrong.

With just little under three weeks until the Isle of Wight Challenge I need to know how this is actually possible.

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The Easter Walk with Ultra Challenges

Saturday 31st March saw me take part in the inaugural Easter Walk with Ultra Challenges. The event, starting and finishing at Windsor Racecourse saw walkers take to the Thames Path along a challenging 25 kilometre or 25 mile route.

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Arriving bright and early, on what was set to be a very wet and dull day weather wise, I quickly registered to receive my pack with bib number and had something small to eat. Soon enough the first wave was following a Zumba style warm up, eagerly anticipating the start of the challenge.

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Within no time at all we were off, following the Thames River path, passing Alexandra and Home Park to Runnymede where the half way and refreshment stop was situated.

In the first half of the challenge, with only a handful of walkers ahead of me, we experienced a path that was rather wet and muddy underfoot – at times rather slippery. Making it to the half way point in good time, I decided not to stop for refreshments. I was feeling good, I was feeling determined and I wanted to keep up the momentum.

 

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So I walked straight through the check point, with the many volunteers congratulating me for doing so well and cheering me on.

The second half of the challenge was rather different. Following the river in the first half meant that the route so far was reasonably flat. Around the 14 kilometre mark we saw ourselves having to cross fields that were extremely water logged, at some points over ankle deep. Once this had been crossed, we then had a rather challenging climb up a woodland staircase – something that pulled back my time completely and left me rather breathless.

Soon after this was accomplished the rains came. A heavy downpour that went on for well over an hour as I found myself following the route through residential streets and into Windsor Great Park.

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The paths were somewhat of a change from the muddy river paths, with some hills to keep it challenging. Following the route in Windsor Great Park, you had to turn right on to “The Long Walk” – the never ending path from the centre of the park up to Windsor Castle. The Iconic view down to the castle at the far end was rather impressive, even on a dull day. The challenge was to maintain the pace along the 2.64 mile path that runs from The Copper Horse statue to the Castle gates.

After a good while walking, at this point avoiding dog walkers, runners and tourists now out and about for the Bank Holiday I finally made it to the castle gate, rather relieved to be off the long, long path and following the route back through the streets of Windsor and back to Windsor Racecourse.

Rather tired and elated, I crossed the finish line in a time of 4:01. As I did it transpired that I was the first 25 kilometre walker to finish – those few ahead of me where completing the 25 mile challenge.

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So I happily accepted my medal, glass of bubbly and lots of Lindt chocolate Easter treats, before having a hot meal that was laid out by the event organisers.

I continued to watch the results once home, as different waves of walkers made it back to the finish, and I was pleased to see that my final ranking for the days event was number six!

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To say I am pleased with that result is an understatement – I was ecstatic! The months and months of getting in the walking miles and at times at a faster pace had clearly paid off. Before I decided to take on ultra challenges this year, I never imagined I would be able to sustain a fast walking pace and for the Easter Walk I had done just that. With an average pace of 15:16 minute miles I finished elated and exhausted.

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The Easter Walk was the second challenge I have completed with Ultra Challenges, and just like the London Winter Walk, everything from the organisation and communication in the lead up to the day, the whole day itself and the staff was second to none.

With the Isle of Wight challenge just five weeks away I can’t help but feel reassured, despite the nerves starting to kick in, as I know the event will be just as well organised and enjoyable.

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London Landmarks Half Marathon

Sunday 25th March saw me take part in the inaugural London Landmarks Half Marathon.

As the title suggests, the brand new closed road run boasted a route full of cultural and iconic landmarks including Big Ben, St Pauls Cathedral, The Tower of London and the Shard, to name a few.

The 13.1 mile route is the only one of its kind to see participants go through both the City of London and Westminster.

I was one of 10,000 lucky runners to take part, starting on Pall Mall and with the first half following a similar route to London Winter Run, before heading into the city following plenty of twists and turns.

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Despite a lack of running of late, due to other training commitments, I was extremely excited to take part in this event. I knew that I would not expect a PB, as my focus had not been on running for several months, but at the same time I intended to do my best, focus on myself and not everyone around me.

And I did just that for well into half of the race. I started in the purple wave, and got off to a good start. Though it took me a good while to get into the race and find my own rhythm, pacing remained pretty steady. Passing St Paul’s Cathedral and further into the city I had the 2:15 pacer in eye sight ahead of me. Behind me and at times next to me I had the 2:30 pacer. So after the half way mark I knew If I kept at my steady pace I would possibly find myself finishing between my two best half marathon times.

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Lots of twists and turns occurred the further we ran into the city. So many that 8 miles into the race I found myself paying less and less attention to the road and disaster struck.

I lost my footing on uneven pavement, twisted my ankle and fell to the ground.

True London spirit kicked in and I quickly found myself surrounded by people checking I was okay, helping me up and even one runner, seeing that I was distressed, held my hand as I assured her I was going to carry on.

So that’s what I did.

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It is safe to say that my journey after this point was extremely difficult. Not wanting to cause myself further injury, but at the same time wanting to complete even if it did mean crawling, I developed a run/walk method to get myself to the finish line. Inclines and declines in the road, along with corners, saw me adopt a slower pace and at times a fast walking pace.

Eventually, I was on the home straight – running for several minutes then walking for a short period. The final 500 metres seemed to go on forever, the last part seeing me retrace those final steps from the London Marathon.

I heard spectators screaming my name and I went to a different place. I remembered that day almost a year ago. When I hit the final 500 metres and heard my Uncle screaming my name, by far the loudest in the crowd.

I imagined it was him cheering me on and screaming my name – not complete strangers. And it saw me through to the end at a running pace.

Slower than originally expected, completing in 2:40, however by no means my slowest half marathon. And good time considering the circumstances.

The biggest achievement of all – not quitting. Stupid perhaps, seeing as I have had to slow down the training this week due to injury, but quitting is never an option for me.

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The London Landmarks Half Marathon was by far one of the best organised races I have taken part in. From the lead up communication, the race pack (including a very bright running t-shirt), the entertainment on the day and the medal – everything was spot on.

I certainly hope I have the opportunity to run this one again next year!

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Preparing for the Isle of Wight Challenge

In six weeks time the Isle of Wight Challenge will be done and dusted, and most likely still evident with the aches and pains expected post challenge.

I have come a long way with my walking in the last few months and I have found a new love for joining others in a long walk through forests and around farmers fields in my local area. I never imagined I would enjoy walking for hours on end, but I have and in doing so I have become fond of the company I have in doing so.

With less than six weeks to go, it is important to keep up the momentum and to prepare myself fully with what is to come.

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Training will not let up over the coming weeks. Every Sunday sees me plan in a long walk with the team, with the mileage getting bigger and bigger until the final few weeks. I will need to ensure that I get my biggest walk (around 10 hours of walking), planned and accomplished well before the day itself. A night walk; starting off in the day and finishing later into the evening; would be advisable to help me cope with that need to carry on – despite the fatigue setting in.

With training I also need to ensure I carry on mixing up the activities – not purely relying on walking to see me through. So, I will be heading back into Body Pump sessions twice a week along with my usual Spinning classes to build up strength.

Preparing for all weathers is something we have most definitely been doing over the last few months. We have seen sub zero temperatures, snow, wind – you name it. So if snow is forecasted on the day we will be prepared. What we will not be prepared for, however, is warm temperatures and sun! Instead we will just have to remember provisions to help us through if we are lucky to be blessed with warm weather – sunglasses, hat, extra water and sunscreen is all on the list of things to take along.

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The Kit is vital to any challenge. Since training for the Isle of Wight challenge began I have trained in a variety of foot wear to find what works best for me. Starting with my runners, as I thought they would be perfect for the job at hand. They were not, as I found out during the London Winter Walk, though perfect for shorter running distances they did not provide the stability needed for long arduous walks. So the next walk saw me don the trainers that got me through the London Marathon. The support was perfect, as long as my feet remained dry. So they would be great, until we have to face rain – trainers were out.

The next port of call was walking boots. For several weeks I attempted to rack up the miles in heavy boots, each time willing that they “break in” so I could stop thinking about my feet with every step. Each week I failed, my feet remained a mess of cuts and blisters.

So I gave up on the boots.

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I headed to Go Outdoors to try on a pair of Salomon X Ultra GTX Walking shoes, after a recommendation from a friend. They fit like a glove, and after walking them in during the week I took them on their first long walk. No hot spots, no blisters and no cuts to be seen. I had finally found the footwear for me and teamed them up with a pair of 1000 mile socks. There have been no cuts and blisters since.

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Nutrition is something I am still learning about during walks. Some have advised to eat something small every two miles, some say every hour. Either way, with each walk I am ensuring I have an array of snacks, including sweets like Fruit Pastilles or Jelly Babies. One or two of these every hour or so enables me to keep my energy levels up.

However, it is the meals we will have to take on board before the challenge and at the half way point rest stop that causes me concern on the day. Therefore the big 10 hour walk cannot come soon enough. I can use this training walk as a test to see what works – talking a refreshment break with food just over half way.

Rest is just as important as training itself. Over the coming weeks I will have to ensure that I fit in rest days (something that I have previously been terrible at) and find ways to relax. Just this morning I headed to the gym to spend an hour in the spa – using the hot tub and steam room. I find in the absence of a bath, the hot tub soothes my muscles, the steam room helps with clearing my lungs and the two combined helps me get a restful sleep.

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And if I have time between now and challenge day I will also schedule in a Floatation session, to relax both my mind and body ahead of the big day.

Less than six weeks until I face the Isle of Wight Challenge, the countdown is well and truly on.

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Training with Friends!

When I heard I had a place in the London Marathon back in October 2016 I made the most sensible decision to stop my boot camp membership.

With the long gruelling months ahead, getting the miles under my belt, I did not have the time to think about the comfort of the group boot camp sessions or risk injuries running around in the mud with others.

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The prospect was daunting, going out alone and attempting to keep myself motivated. Let’s face it, trying to push yourself when you know it is you and you alone, when there is no one to keep you going at your lowest moments, having no one to talk to, it’s is almost as hard as the training itself.

That said I quickly got used to my own company, and once the London Marathon was complete I did not rush back into group sessions or classes. In fact, I continued running – though not to the volumes seen pre-marathon – I took myself off to the weekly Parkrun and I continued to enter in shorter races throughout the summer.

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When the weather started to change, and the cold, dark nights drew in I longed for some company and the motivation to keep me going. I changed my gym membership and discovered some of the best Spinning classes which also allowed me to interact with fellow fitness enthusiasts again!

At the same time I quickly signed up for the Isle of Wight Challenge after a friend sent it over to me as a suggestion.

I did not even think about how I was going to train for the challenge. I was used to spending the winter months training alone. So I just got into the swing of long walks straight away.

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However, once Christmas and New Year had passed, those friends who had also signed up started to get into the training mindset. Planning walks, discussing tactics and even their kit.

I found myself on my own less and less. Long walks started to get scheduled in once a month – with our first group walk being a massive 20 miles.

From then on we have found ourselves frequently donning the walking boots, early on a Sunday morning. Sometimes walking the longer distances along the river into London, sometimes a shorter rural, yet hilly, route through Epping or Hatfield Forrest.

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What I have discovered over the most recent weeks is that I missed having the company whilst training. The London Marathon taught me that I don’t necessarily need it to get the job done, but having someone beside you, someone to talk to, people to keep you going just makes training less of an arduous task. I find myself thinking less and less about the miles we have to cover due to the fact that the company is so enjoyable, time flies by with everyone pushing each other to keep going and the camaraderie is something special.

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With many, many more miles to go before we take on the 65.8 miles I feel so comforted knowing I am walking with great company.

Training is certainly more enjoyable with friends.

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